By Carrie McDermott, Wahpeton Daily News
A state-funded program to assist military veterans prepare for and successfully complete a post-secondary education is now accessible at North Dakota State College of Science, through a partnership with North Dakota State University.
The Veterans Educational Training (VET) program is free to North Dakota veterans and VA education benefits, including the GI Bill, Post 9/11 and Vocational Rehabilitation may be applicable.
Jeri Vaudrin, project coordinator for the VET program at NDSU, said it is designed to help out vets who want to go back to school to get a certificate or degree.
“Years ago we had a program called Veterans Upward Bound, which was funded with a grant from the Department of Education,” she said. “It was here on campus at NDSU for 40 years, with classrooms here and at the University of North Dakota.”
She said the program was not funded last year, and organizers faced having to end it or find an alternative funding source.
“We believed it was too important to let go, so we secured funding from the North Dakota legislature for the biennium,” she said. “The funding the state gave us wasn’t as much as we had hoped, it was about a 40 percent cut.”
She said the goal is to cover the entire state, and the group is now partnering with several other campuses to act as remote sites, using computer labs or classroom spaces for veterans to connect with the classes through the web.
“We put together online classrooms for those who can’t be in the Fargo campus classes, because of distance or work constraints,” she said.
NDSCS began offering space in a computer lab just this month as part of the program.
Vince Plummer, manager of student health and counseling services at NDSCS, said the campus is offering computer lab space and assistance from staff that will help veterans who “may not be comfortable around some of the technology.”
He said there are no class-size limits, and once Vaudrin sets them up in the system with logins and passwords, they can use the computer lab any time of the day that the campus is open.
“I’ll walk them through the campus and show them the lab, make sure they have a functional understanding of things,” he said. “I make sure they know I’m the primary point of contact. They can visit with me and get answers.”
He said it’s a nice option for veterans in the southern valley who can’t get up to Fargo or don’t have a computer.
“It’s just an option if vets don’t have the technology in their own home,” he said. “When Jeri asked if we’d like to partner with them, we were really excited. It’s a fantastic way to support veterans.”
Vaudrin explained that many military personnel suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injuries, and may have issues with being in a crowded classroom. The intent of the VET program is to provide not just the educational training, but a setting where veterans can feel comfortable learning and support one another.
“We want to stress collaborations, so those who aren’t sure can get a taste for it,” she said. “They can find out what it’s like to be on a regimented schedule, and focus on what they want to do. If they have issues, there are people on site who can help.”
Vaudrin said there is no age limit for veterans eligible to participate in the program.
“For example, maybe they were in the military for just 180 days, or went to basic training and got injured and now have a service-related injury. Or they could be a Vietnam veteran or even from the Korean War. We don’t have that restriction, it’s wide open.”
She said the VET program can also be accessed from home, if a veteran is comfortable working computers on their own. Veterans are tested to determine their academic level and if there are any learning disabilities. The program can connect veterans with additional services if needed.
“We work with a number of homeless people in shelters, too,” Vaudrin said. “Even if it’s just so they can get into a certificate program. We work with math, English, sciences and history, if needed. We teach them study skills, how to prepare for tests, time management and basic computer skills.”
The biggest problem she sees with service members who go back to school is that when they run into problems and don’t know how to solve them, they quit.
“We want them to finish,” she said. “It’s important for them to know they’re not stuck. While they have chosen to give their time and put their lives on the line (in the military), we understand and appreciate them and want to provide for them, so they can continue their dream and build their lives.”
Vaudrin said the program also works with ND Job Services to help veterans get an idea of available positions, which may steer them into a particular course of study.
There is no required time limit as to how much or how little each student needs. It’s all dependent on their individual academic level and skills. Some are in the program just a few months while others may be in it for a year or two.
To be eligible for the program, students must be North Dakota veterans who are intending to attend a North Dakota college or university and who has a DD 214 stating anything other than a “dishonorable” discharge, regardless of age or residence.
For more information on the program, visit www.ndsu.edu/trio/vet or call Vaudrin at 800-570-5719 or Plummer at 701-671-2319.
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