Veterans included at OC campus
In at least one important sense, the term “community college” is a misnomer. Community colleges meet such a diversity of vocational and academic needs and serve such diverse populations of students— most of whom only come and go to attend classes — that they really cannot foster a cohesive sense of belonging on campus. Our very own Olympic College, however, would seem to be offsetting this liability for a distinct group of students near and dear to my heart.
Readers may recall that I devoted my column of March 20 (“Veterans — Olympic College wants you!”) to reporting on what Olympic College was doing to attract and accommodate veterans. I ended that column with a promise to revisit and report on how OC’s Veteran and Military Support Center (VMSC) is faring.
I first visited and reported on OC’s VMSC in 2013 (“A veterans community at OC,” Nov. 3). The center was started by Navy careerist Larry Cleman in 2011 and had already established itself as an all-around refuge and resource center for OC’s veterans. I made good on my promise to revisit the VMSC on April 5.
Cleman had since shipped out for a teaching position. The current director is Tatiane Simons, 36, who took over last fall.
Simons spent four and a half years as a Navy corpsman. (Simons is a woman, but the Navy just won’t budge on the issue of gender-neutral titles.) She came to OC fresh fromthe Navy and earned her associate degree in business and economics while working full-time in the college’s Student Services Office.
Simons is responsible for maintaining the VMSC and for securing the resources veterans, activeduty members, and dependents may need to succeed atOC. Her efforts are complemented by Ashly Mota, 31, a full-time Vet Corps navigator charged with helping veterans find the nonacademic resources they may need to stay in college.
Over the fall and winter quarters, the center logged a total of 5,114 visits by 423 separate people. The center was frequented by veterans, active-duty members, reservists, dependents, and OC staff, as well as 70 civilian OC students. I was especially pleased to see that last number. As a former G.I. Bill student myself, I feel it’s important not to make veterans feel isolated on campus. They should be encouraged to interact with younger students, giving them the benefit of their experience and wisdom.
Toward that end, the VMSC sponsors a number of outreach events open to the campus at large. In November, the center hosted a Thanksgiving potluck.Earlier this month, it offered reduced-price tickets to the Mariners’ Salute to Armed Forces Night and sponsored a free “mindfulness” workshop aimed at reducing academic stress through meditation. On April 21, the center will be hosting a “Garden-Style Potluck.” There is nothing like offering free food, Simons has found, to bring everyone together.
The five veterans I spoke to on this occasion have made the center their homeport and credit it with making them feel wanted and welcome at OC. “ If I’m not in class, I’m here,” Logan Pate, 31, told me. A 10-year Navy veteran, Pate left as a petty officer first class and started at OC in the winter quarter. His ultimate goal is to transfer to a four-year program in chemical engineering. In the meanwhile, he’s showing his appreciation by “cleaning up, making coffee, and helping other students.”
“Very helpful and welcoming” is how Paul Fisher, a retired Navy officer, sums up the center’s appeal. Fisher, 56, served for 25 years, reaching the rank of commander. Intent on acquiring a new manual skill, he started in OC’s welding program last fall. He has been coming to the center from “day one.”
Kate Halloran, 41, retired from the Navy as a petty officer second class and now serves as the VMSC’s work-study student. She is completing her associate degree and is already working toward a bachelor’s degree from Bradman University.She praises the center for opening at 7 a.m., earlier than any other campus facility, and for providing counseling, tutoring, computers, coffee and even couches to nap on.
“A nice, friendly environment” is how Army veteran Amy O’Keefe, 35, sums up the center’s appeal. O’Keefe — just as I was in 1969 — has been academically reborn. She dropped out of OC after two quarters and in 1999 enlisted in the Army. She went on to serve for 10 years, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan. She returned to OC in the fall and is now aiming toward nursing.
And Bryon Mulligan, 56 — whom I first interviewed in 2013 — is still a regular patron. A 12year Coast Guard veteran, Mulligan is finishing his associate degree in computer information systems and is planning to transfer to a four-year school. He appreciates the one-on-one help and the friendship he’s found at the center.
As I myself learned long ago, getting out of the service can be a lonely and disconcerting experience. Suddenly you find yourself without the fellowship that sustained you and the direction you may have resented but soon find yourself missing. Olympic College’s veterans need not feel that way. They have a community to guide and support them.
Ed Palm of Silverdale is a Marine Corps veteran and former dean at Olympic College.Contact him at efpalm@centurylink. net.