Northeast State has been awarded $94,000 through the state Veterans Reconnect Grant program to improve awareness and services for the scores of veterans the College serves each year.
“I was absolutely astounded to receive it,” said Pat Chandler, coordinator of Veterans Affairs at Northeast State. “We are very happy and excited to see this happening for the benefit of veteran students.”
Northeast State served 287 veteran students during the 2014-15 academic year. Fifty percent of the population was between the ages of 25 and 34 and more than 60 percent received some form of financial aid. Veteran students attending Northeast State resided in 11 counties in the region including Southwest Virginia.
In the grant application, the College’s Office of Veterans Affairs set the initiative “Respect, Responsibility, and Response: Reconnecting Our Veterans” to close gaps in services to student veterans. The Office of Veterans Affairs and Grant Development undertook research to gather information about how to best fill any existing gaps and better serve veteran students.
The College submitted the grant application in July. In the application, Northeast State sought to address three primary areas to improve resources for veteran students: social and cultural support, campus collaboration (faculty/staff education of veterans issues), and college systems.
Social and cultural support elements help orientate veterans to college life by sharing time and creating peer mentoring and veterans’ support groups. The grant also funds changing student systems for veterans to identify their status on all forms and tailor recruiting materials toward military communities. Chandler said the grant would help with events including guest speakers and celebrating the anniversaries of the service branches of the United States military.
The grant will also help fund training for Northeast State personnel about issues of veterans. Chandler explained that a major component of the initiative was faculty and staff training on veterans in the classroom. She noted the initiative would create a veterans success committee bringing together faculty, staff, and students to identify and solve problems veterans may face.
“They come from a world where everything is so structured,” said Chandler. “When they come here, they are transitioning to a totally different environment with a population that may not understand the military culture.”
The grant award requires the College to use the money in one year from the date the grant goes into effect. The College must demonstrate the ability to sustain funding for the projects after the year ends. The grant application did not request funding to hire additional personnel.
A portion of the grant funds will be used to establish an emergency fund to help veterans facing housing or transportation crisis that could cause them to drop out of college. The grant also establishes a veterans’ space and funds furnishings at the Northeast State at Johnson City campus.
Student data found that a majority of veteran students opt to transfer to a four-year college, but a significant number want to graduate and enter the workforce. Partnerships with potential employers who seek to hire veterans, such as Eastman Chemical Company, Regions Bank, and the Robinette Company, were a priority for grant funding.
“These are just a few of the things we want to do make veterans feel welcome and accepted on our campus,” said Chandler. “We also wanted to have a veterans’ specific student orientation for them that helps them adjust to a college setting.”
Chandler praised Northeast State’s Career Development Services and Center for Students with Disabilities for their contributions to helping veterans with their career endeavors and disability issues on campus.
“We have a wonderful group of people who are willing to work with veteran students to help them get acclimated on that,” she said.
The Northeast State initiative matched a component of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative to re-engage veteran students to finish a degree or certificate program. Chandler noted that Gov. Haslam seeks to make Tennessee the model for transitioning veterans into college and the workforce.
“We want Northeast State to be that school,” she said. “Our main goal is to help them be successful to graduation and beyond.”