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College program helps veterans further their education
November 05, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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When discharged veterans need help with getting back into school and pursuing a degree program, the TRIO Veterans Upward Bound program at Western Nebraska Community College is ready to help.

“The program has been funded through the Department of Education since 1999,” said TRIO Program Director Ce Merrigan. “It’s designed to help limited income and first generation veterans who have honorably served to prepare for and complete their postsecondary education.”

Upward Bound offers many different services to veterans.
Tutoring, classes, and referral for veterans’ health services.
They also handle the certification for education benefits through the various programs through the Veterans Administration, as well as arrange visits to four-year colleges for student veterans who what to continue their education.

Chris Wolf, Veterans Upward Bound Advisor, said federal guidelines require the local program, along with its satellite branch in Rapid City, to report on 125 veteran annually. Since its inception, the program has benefitted well over 1,000 veterans in their continuing education goals.

One of the program’s success stories is Army veteran Christopher Baker, who served six years and three tours in Iraq as an Apache helicopter crew chief. He said that without the Upward Bound program, he wouldn’t have a degree and would probably be working a minimum wage job.
“Chris was referral to us from the VA in 2008,” Wolf said. “I called him a week before classes started to see if he was interested. Within a week we had him registered and attending classes.”

Since then, Baker has earned bachelor’s degree and is working on his master’s.

“I’m working on the prerequisites to get into physical therapy school,” he said. “If I’m not accepted, I have another year to study for the entrance exam into medical school.”

Baker said that when he first started, Upward Bound helped him with books and tutoring. Now, he’s taken on the role as tutor for others. Subjects he helps with include math, psychology, anatomy and physiology, English and computers.

“Most of the younger vets have computer skills,” Baker said. “I did teach a class for some Korean era vets who had no computer skills all. It was a lot of fun.”

Through the program, vets attending WNCC also bond with each other, forming study groups and doing projects together. Baker helped organize the Student Veterans Organization as they go into the community, speaking at events on Veterans Day. They help with programs at the Veterans Home and participate in the annual Veterans Day parade. They were also instrumental in getting a veterans memorial placed in front of the college.

“We try to do whatever we can to support our veterans,” Wolf said. “We encourage them to register with veterans services and will go to bat for them if they need help when problems come up with the VA.”

Merrigan said the community and the college have been fantastic in their support of the program. People are always ready to assist with any emergency. In 2011, Military Times Magazine named the WNCC Veterans Upward Bound program No. 1 as best for vets among two-year colleges around the country. There are 49 Veterans Upward Bound program in the country.

“We feel fortunate to have that funding from the Department of Education,” Merrigan said. “There really needs to be 2,049 programs like it around the country.”
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