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‘It helps them immensely’: Oregon VA awards $1 million in grants for student veterans at COCC, across the state

(Update: Adding video, comments from COCC's veteran peer advisor, coordinator )

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs recently awarded grants to 14 schools, including Central Oregon Community College. The agency is investing $1 million to expand Veterans Resource Centers, which play a key role in helping student veterans succeed in this new chapter of their lives.

 "This wonderful funding will allow us to expand our program and our services," Bonnie Jordan, COCC's veterans program coordinator, said Thursday.

Veteran Resource Centers are important investments in helping veterans transition from military service to college life, complete their education goals and successfully transition to a career and their community.

COCC Veteran Peer Advisor Kelly Williams said, "It helps them immensely, just because the mental shift from going from being active duty or a reservist to a student is completely different set of skills that you need to have."

The purpose of the Campus Veteran Resource Center Grant Program is to augment these existing campus resources, by funding innovative and impactful projects or programs designed to improve the lives of student veterans and help them succeed. 

ODVA Interim Director Dr. Nakeia Daniels said, “A post-secondary degree or course of study at a public university or community college is a critical pathway for many veterans to transition out of the military into a successful civilian career. But unlike most students, veterans often have very different life experiences from their peers.”

“Campus Veteran Resource Centers provide critical veteran resources and offer support networks with other student veterans, which can drastically improve outcomes and help ensure success for student veterans in their educational endeavors and future careers.”

COCC will receive just over $80,000, according to Jenn Kovitz, the college’s director of marketing and public relations.

“This is a grant we received before,” she told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday. “The first was funding that allowed us to restart our student veterans program a few years ago. These dollars are going to allow us to continue to fund our program.”

There are “three buckets” the grant funds will go toward, Kovitz said, the first being emergency funds for student veterans facing unexpected expenses, such as tuition for courses the VA doesn’t cover, or difficulty finding affordable housing.

The second “bucket” allows the college to join the Student Veterans of America, a national advocacy group, not only to attend conferences but take student veterans to such events. The third is for on-campus events to build community and support for student veterans, such as suicide prevention training underway this week, and “ways to make the campus engaging” for student veterans, Kovitz said.

Jordan said, "We're going to be able to apply and support our students through services, including in bringing agencies on campus. We're also going to be able to enhance our peer advising program and give our peer advisors even more resources and opportunities to travel and be a part of the student sections of America."

Williams, who served in the Navy for more than eight years, is now a veteran peer advisor, and knows first-hand how much these programs mean to students. 

"Sometimes it's a lot easier for students to interact with a fellow veteran, especially one that's also a student," he said. "So we just have a little bit more in common."

Last year, Kovitz noted, the federal Department of Education recognized the Robert D. Maxwell Veterans Center as a “center for excellence” for veteran students, allowing COCC to expand the Veterans Resource Center into additional space and fund its one full-time and one-part-time staff.

All 14 of the institutions who applied received a portion of the available grant funds, ranging in awards from $49,720 to $100,000. Awardees include COCC, Chemeketa Community College, Klamath Community College, Lane Community College, Linn-Benton Community College, Mt. Hood Community College, Oregon State University, Portland Community College, Portland State University, Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon University, Southwestern Oregon Community College, University of Oregon, and Western Oregon University. 

The proposed projects were evaluated by a committee composed of Veteran Service Officers, education partners, members of the Oregon National Guard, and other partners who provide direct services to veterans. 

The Oregon DVA said highlights of some of the grant-funded projects around the state include:

  • Funding support for Campus Veteran Coordinator positions, who work to ensure student veterans have access to benefits and supports they have earned.
  • The development of veteran-specific campus orientation and welcome programs for student veterans and their families.
  • The establishment of peer mentor programs and other support services to foster deeper connections among peers, resulting in increased veteran retention and succeeding in school.
  • Purchase of technology and electronic equipment for student use. 
  • Purchase of tutorial software for veterans in the areas of college-level writing and math skills, tutoring, or a lending library. 
  • Travel to state and national conferences to promote student veteran professional development and employment networking opportunities. 
  • Programs that are designed to provide resources and assistance to address student veteran food insecurity, mental health & wellbeing struggles, transportation barriers and other emergency supports.
  • Veterans’ events, ceremonies, career fairs, and skill building workshops.
  • Marketing and advertising to expand outreach to historically underrepresented and underserved veterans.

More information about the grants can be found on ODVA’s website at www.oregon.gov/odva/agency-programs/grants/Pages/Campus-Grant.aspx

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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