HANCEVILLE, Ala. – “Wallace State is a special campus to me because it does have such a large base of support for veterans,” said Marcus O’Hair, who has been enrolled in Wallace State Community College’s Machine Tool Technology program since 2014 after serving a stint in the Marines.
Wallace State was recently designated as a Military Friendly School by Victory Media, Inc., for its record of military student success, including graduation and employment outcomes, and for its services and policies in support of veterans and their dependents.
“The amount of joy and pride I have to see Wallace State plan things for veterans is unexplainable. It’s a wonderful feeling,” said O’Hair, 30, a Cold Springs graduate.
O’Hair is one of approximately 152 veterans currently enrolled at Wallace State where the college has expanded efforts to make the transition from service to education easier for former servicemen and women.
“Wallace State is proud to serve our veterans who have selflessly and honorably served our country, and we are exceedingly proud to have been recognized nationally as a Military Friendly School,” said Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics.
A Leadership Wallace State project undertaken by Virginia Barber, an Air Force veteran who served in Desert Storm and IT Department employee, and her leadership team last year raised awareness about experiences of veterans returning to civilian life. The group proposed a Veterans Corner, where Veterans could meet and support each other, as well as additional veteran-centered events and activities.
“Two-thirds of all service members returning from active duty experience trouble with readjustment into civilian life and many believe that finding a job and the proper education or training are their biggest challenges,” the team said in their presentation. They also surveyed random veterans on campus, and many expressed their hopes of meeting others on campus who have served the country.
“Our veterans face a different set of barriers to educational success than most students. Years of constant vigilance to danger take time to let go. Loud noises, certain sounds, or smells can trigger anxiety. Also, veterans are a unique population, no longer active military but not quite civilian. We share a unique set of experiences that cannot be understood unless experienced. As a result, it can be hard to “fit in” with the rest of the student body,” Barber said.
Already this semester Wallace State has hosted a pair of meet-and-greet luncheons for veterans. The Veterans Corner is expected to open in the spring. Space has been allocated in the library for that purpose.
The new Veterans Corner will be a place for veterans “to feel accepted, to feel safe, and to meet and help each other. It will also provide a quiet place for veterans to study as well as find the resources they need to be successful,” Barber said.
These services complement Wallace State’s traditional VA services, which assists veterans with admissions, GI bill eligibility and other scholarship opportunities.
Wallace State and The Evelyn Burrow Museum also host a popular exhibition of photographs honoring veterans on its digital outdoor board each year for Veterans Day.
Aaron Cosper is another veteran currently enrolled at Wallace State. He spent nearly nine years in the U.S. Army before taking classes.
“Wallace State is putting forth a lot of time to make veterans feel at home. It was a transition for me to go back into the civilian world, so it’s nice to get in contact with other people on campus who have served. You have something in common with them and can relate to things they can relate to. You can share stories you can’t with anyone else. You can avoid keeping things bottled up,” said Cosper, 33, a Cullman native, and Machine Tool Technology student.
Cosper attended the first luncheon and spent 45 minutes afterwards in the Bailey Center parking lot, talking to a fellow veteran he had met for the first time.
The second luncheon featured special guests and brothers as well as veterans Spud and Julian Campbell. Spud Campbell served in the merchant Marines and was one three sailors who survived the shipwreck of the USS Henry Bacon as they attempted to save 19 refugees for which he was awarded the Norwegian War Medal. Julian Campbell was a Pilot in WWII and the Korean War and was a recipient of the Bronze Star and many other medals, awards and citations. They talked about their experiences with veterans and shared stories with students on campus.
“Wallace State truly cares about its veterans. They are enthusiastic about making us comfortable on campus. The college isn’t just checking off the box of something they have to do,” said Cosper.
Nathaniel Butler, 47, served in the Army Reserves and also appreciates the chances he has to interact with fellow servicemen.
“It gives us a chance for us to de-stress. We can share conversations and stories with each other that no one else can understand,” said Butler, who lives in Oneonta.
“We are a brotherhood, regardless of service, rank or title and regardless of gender, age or creed,” O’Hair said.
Veterans, national guard/reservists and dependents/survivors are eligible for VA education benefits at Wallace State. The Alabama Community College System adopted The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act) after it was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law. The Choice Act guarantees in-state tuition to veterans and their family members.
“If it wasn’t for the financial benefits, I couldn’t afford to be here. There’s a lot of benefits available,” O’Hair said. “It wasn’t in God’s plan for me to be deployed again, so I wanted to go to college and do something with my life.”
Added Cosper: “Take a tour of the programs here and see what best fits you. Everyone at Wallace State is here to try to make it easy as possible for you.”
This week, veterans on campus are receiving patriotic pins and coupons to local restaurants. Lion Central, located in the Bailey Center lobby, will also be decorated for Veterans Day.
Veterans interested in educational benefits available at Wallace State are encouraged to contact Wallace State’s veterans affairs coordinator Joyce Cordes at 256.352.8255 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits cover everything from tuition and fees to books for all of Wallace State’s programs. Flight time for pilot training through Wallace State’s aviation program is also covered.
“I’m proud and honored to have the privilege of assisting our Veterans and Servicepersons with their education benefits each semester,” Cordes said. “I have also enjoyed speaking with our veterans during the luncheons throughout this semester and getting to know a personal side of them. It’s very gratifying to know that the college is also honoring them during the month of November.”
For more information about Wallace State, visit www.wallacestate.edu.
Wallace State Community College
P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077
1-866-350-9722 256-352-8443 direct
Visit us online at www.wallacestate.edu
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Wallace State Community College
801 Main Street NW | Hanceville, AL 35077
Office: 256.352.8118 | Cell: 256.339.2519 | Toll Free: 866.350.9722