VCCS Honors Veterans
On Friday, Americans honored the bravery, dedication and sacrifice of our country’s nearly 22 million veterans on Veterans Day. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Virginia is home to more than 781,000 of those veterans, many of whom turn to Virginia’s Community Colleges to help them carve a career path once their military service has concluded.
“During our 50-year history, Virginia’s Community Colleges have proudly served military students, their families, and our country’s veterans by providing access to the resources, education and training they need to succeed at home. We consider it a privilege to enroll those who have served in the armed forces and are dedicated to their success in the pursuit of education — be it higher education, retraining, vocational skills or just lifelong learning,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges.
Organizations such as GI Jobs and Military Advanced Education, which provide annual rankings for the most military-friendly colleges, increasingly give Virginia’s Community Colleges a thumbs up.
“Just as we cannot expect members of our military to carry out their mission without resources and training,” said DuBois, “we cannot expect them to meet their potential at home without resources and training. That’s where our community colleges step in.”
Many benefits are available to advance the education and skills of veteran students and, in many cases, spouses and family members may also be eligible for education and training assistance. Veterans’ affairs offices at each of VCCS’s 23 community colleges are an important resource for veterans, active duty military and their families, and staff is available to help students with applications, processes, information about using their earned Veterans benefits through the Department of Veteran Affairs, credit for applied learning, transfer programs and much more. VCCS makes that easier for veterans through a process called “credit for prior learning” that rewards vets with academic credit for military courses they took while in uniform.
Our community college leaders are helping Veterans pursue high-demand 21st century fields like cybersecurity. A number of initiatives have been created to help veterans get from where they are to a workforce certification, an associate degree and even a bachelor’s degree in cyber defense. Thanks to recent work done by IT faculty, more than 1,000 course credits have been identified that can be awarded to a veteran to get them on the path to completing a degree or certificate.
In Virginia, 11 community colleges offer associate degrees or certificates in the cybersecurity field. Three colleges (Northern Virginia, Lord Fairfax and Tidewater) have earned the National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense from the National Security Agency. That elite designation was created in 2010 to identify the community colleges that meet the nation’s need for cyber defense education.
But the innovation and quality don’t end there. Tidewater Community College is providing the educational component to what is Virginia’s first cybersecurity apprenticeship program – another model that can be replicated to create further opportunities.
Veterans who graduate with the associate degree in applied science in information technology can apply for a federal scholarship that will cover tuition, fees, and books, and pay a stipend, to continue at an approved university to earn their bachelor’s degree. There are also specific scholarships available for veterans pursuing cybersecurity provided by the state and federal government. These resources are in addition to G-I Bill and other benefits veterans have earned through their service. There are other programs at play too, like Virginia’s innovative Workforce Credentials Grant program that can cut the cost of training for an industry credential by two-thirds.
In conclusion, DuBois added, “I encourage veterans to visit their nearest community college, ask for the financial aid office or ask for a veteran’s success coach, who will help you navigate these resources. Virginia’s Community Colleges are standing by to serve you as you have done so nobly for our country.”
Keep reading below for some of our veteran success stories.
Germanna Community College: Brenda Dixon (Veteran, U.S. Army Reserve)
A growing and increasingly diverse number of U.S. military veterans are enrolling in Virginia’s Community Colleges. That’s neither a mistake nor surprising says one person who has spent her adult life watching the issue from all sides: first as a community college student and graduate; then as an officer in the Army Reserve; and now as a full-time nursing professor at her alma mater.
“The system is more user-friendly for veterans today than when I was in college,” says Brenda Dixon, a professor of nursing at Germanna Community College. “We reach out to the veterans, and employ coordinators to ease the transition of veterans to the college setting.”
Dixon was the first in her family to attend college when she entered the nursing program at Germanna Community College in 1980. There, a mentor’s stories of military service inspired her to enlist in the Army Reserve where she would go on to serve four years on active duty and rise to the rank of Lt. Colonel. She continued her education, earning a master’s degree and several post-master’s certificates. Today, she is a professor at the community college where it all began.
Dixon says the increased diversity seen among veteran students simply mirrors the larger community.
“When I started teaching nursing in 1986, I was the only African American nursing faculty member. [Today] more minority faculty and students, from many different countries, are seen on campus.”
Tidewater Community College: Coby Dillard (Veteran, U.S. Navy)
After being in the Navy for six years, Coby Dillard came to Tidewater Community College in 2010, GI Bill benefits in hand.
“TCC gave me my academic start and my professional start,” said Dillard, who earned his associate of science in social sciences degree in 2012 and transferred to Norfolk State University for his bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies.
“I had been out of school for a long time. Community college is a great place to build your confidence. It’s especially good for getting veterans acclimated to a classroom environment. Using your GI Bill benefits is the least expensive option and gives you the most exposure to what’s available to you.”
Dillard became a work-study student in the veterans’ office of TCC’s Norfolk campus a month after enrolling at the college and later was hired as an academic advisor for military programs. He currently works as a military undergraduate advisor for Regent University while he is finishing up his master’s in human services counseling.
While at TCC, he was president of student government on the Norfolk Campus and active in Student African American Brotherhood. He urges veterans to consider community college.
“Hold on to your benefits; it’s the least expensive option and gives you time to develop the skills you need before you jump into the deep end of a four-year university.”
John Tyler Community College: Jameson Hughes (Veteran, U.S. Army)
Iraq war veteran and former Specialist Jameson Hughes faced a conundrum.
A class he needed to take as an ROTC cadet was offered only once in the spring semester, at the same time as his university ROTC class. So, the Chesterfield County resident signed up for an online version of the class being offered by John Tyler Community College.
“I was wary at first,” said Hughes. “But it was a good situation. The teacher was always available for questions and always offered great feedback. Accessing the class website was simple. The testing proctors on campus were very professional. It couldn’t have gone any smoother. The academic credit has already transferred. I can’t ask for more than that.”
Hughes was not alone in his experience, as either a student with military status or one enrolled in an online class. Virginia’s Community Colleges set enrollment records in 2012-2013 in both categories. The VCCS served 41,470 students with a military status during the 2012-2013 academic year. At the same time, more than 44,838 people took advantage of the colleges’ online classes exclusively.
“Our colleges are proud of both of those numbers and rightfully so,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “We strive to help our returning veterans translate their military experience into skills that will serve them in the private sector, and offer them the chance to obtain additional skills. And as more of our life’s business occurs on a screen, our colleges are working hard to keep their offerings relevant and flexible to the people we serve.”
“Most of the people who deployed with me to Iraq have taken or are taking community college classes. Most of them enlisted for the G.I. Bill benefits. Four-year universities can be daunting to them. Community colleges offer them the chance to get their footing as students. I would have no trepidation at all at taking another community college class.”
Thomas Nelson Community College: Ryan Douglas (Veteran, U.S. Army)
Ryan Douglas spent five years as a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army before enrolling at Thomas Nelson Community College. His duties primarily involved going into enemy territory as a member of a small unit to assess situations and report information back to the larger unit. An Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran with numerous awards, he exited the Army in 2009.
Douglas’ quandary became translating his military experiences to civilian life.
“There a lot of things that you learn in the military. But it’s an entirely different world. In the military, you can do [things] one or two ways and that’s fine. Those one or two ways don’t necessarily translate to civilian life.”
By 2014, his dilemma was resolved. Douglas had positioned himself among the most visible and active students on campus through memberships in various organizations. Additionally, he was part of the college’s delegations to Richmond for meetings with Virginia lawmakers for two consecutive years.
Participation in Thomas Nelson’s Student Veterans of America chapter jump-started Douglas’ engagement in campus life.
“I went to the first interest meeting and I walked out as president.”
Affordable, quality education drew the Yorktown resident to Thomas Nelson. The personal growth opportunities kept him plugged in. Extra-curricular activities allowed him to attend leadership conferences, network with other student leaders and regularly interact with college administrators.
“Wearing suits, going to board meetings, business meetings and conferences: I would’ve never seen myself doing any of those things four or five years ago when I got out. I was a soldier and that was it. I learned that it’s okay to be more than that. I will always be [a soldier] but it’s okay to add to my repertoire.”
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