Clockwise from right, Monica Darcy, associate professor of counseling and faculty liaison for RIC's Veterans Resource Center; Micaela Black, VetSuccess coordinator; Neal Yeatman, former Marine gunnery sergeant and elementary education major; and Joe Towner, former Navy chief and elementary education major.
Since 2009, RIC has experienced an almost 60 percent increase in Veteran enrollment, which the college credits to its Veterans Resource Center (VRC).
Only a year after the post-9/11 G.I. Bill was approved, allowing more military Veterans greater access to enhanced educational benefits, the VRC was formed by Monica Darcy, associate professor of counseling and the center’s faculty liaison.
The center also employs three Veteran work-study students/advisors: Joe Towner, a former Navy chief and elementary education major; Neal Yeatman, a former Marine gunnery sergeant and elementary education major; and Tyler Smith, a former Marine and health administration major; their salaries are funded by the Veterans Administration (VA).
According to Yeatman, “The problem for Vets coming out of the service is not that there aren’t enough benefits out there but that they don’t know what those benefits are.”
Towner agrees. “You have a lot of people coming out of the military who don’t know the first step in obtaining their educational benefits.”
That is what the VRC is designed to do – act as an informational hub. “When Vets come to the VRC, we find the answers for them and point them in the right direction,“ Towner said. ”We show them the benefits they’re entitled to and any other options available.”
RIC’s Veteran population includes service members who are using a federally funded VA educational benefit; Rhode Island Guard and Reserve members using state-funded tuition waivers; Veterans with disabilities of 10 percent or greater using state-funded tuition waivers; as well as Veterans who don’t self-identify and who don’t make use of any educational benefits.
While information dissemination is a key function of the center, assisting Vets in enrolling at RIC and ensuring that they are successful once they are here is another, said Darcy.
Support programs include the Student Veterans Organization (SVO), formed in 2009, with membership open to anyone interested in supporting servicemen and women; VetSuccess on Campus, a pilot program established in 2010, funded by the VA and led by VA counselor Micaela Black, who assists with career, academic and readjustment issues, and resolves any problems that could potentially interfere with a Veteran’s educational program. If needed, Black provides referrals for health services through VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics.
Important campus partners to the success of the VRC are Cindy Salzillo, VA certifying official, as well as the Office of Academic Support and Information Services. New partners with RIC this year include the Learning for Life Program and the AmeriCorps Vet Mentorship program.
“I think the reason why we are so successful is because we have a network of resources that we can constantly draw on to help Vets,” said Smith.
Out of 10,000 other colleges, universities and trade schools in the country, RIC was recognized by Victory Media – for the second year in a row – as one of the top 20 percent most Military Friendly Schools.