Santa Monica College (SMC) has received a $200,000 grant from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors to expand support services at the SMC Veterans’ Resources Center. 59 of the 90 California community colleges which have these centers—dedicated to helping active duty service members and veterans transition to and succeed in college—received a total of $8.5 million in grant funding. The grant was awarded to colleges that qualified through a competitive process; SMC received the maximum amount.
“For almost a decade now, Santa Monica College has been actively seeking ways to support student veterans, to go beyond ensuring that they are compliant with Veterans’ Administration regulations and focus on ensuring that they are also successful at SMC,” said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, SMC Superintendent/President. “Our dedicated counselors and staff—led by current faculty leader Elaine Morton and retired VRC faculty leader Linda Sinclair—have truly proven that at SMC, we care deeply about our student veterans and are willing to go the extra mile to see them succeed.”
For the past five years, SMC has enrolled nearly 1,000 student veterans each academic year. California is home to an estimated 1.8 million veterans, and annually the California community colleges as a system — composed of 73 community college districts and 115 colleges—enrolls roughly 80,000 veterans and active duty service members.
The SMC Veterans’ Resource Center is a “one stop shop” where student veterans have access to academic tutoring and counseling; a computer lab; therapy; and referrals to community resources and other veteran-serving programs in the West Los Angeles area. There is also a veteran lounge/study room, a popular spot where veterans can study and relax between classes.
“Let’s just say it was kismet,” said VRC faculty leader Elaine Morton. “We had been discussing providing additional services to student veterans since an internal ‘program review’ in spring 2018, and less than two weeks later, the Chancellor’s Office announced the grant.” She added that “beads of sweat” formed as the deadline loomed, and she was “relieved to know that SMC’s masterful grants writer Laurel McQuay-Peninger would spearhead the application process.”
“Veterans have done so much for us,” said Morton. “It’s an honor to be of service to them.” She further stated that it was a collaboration between VRC faculty/staff; Senior Dean of Counseling, Retention and Student Wellness Brenda Benson; and Associate Dean of Grants McQuay Peninger that “made it happen.”
The SMC Veterans’ Resource Center will use the grant funds to help increase the number of student veterans who successfully make progress each year toward their educational and career goals. The center plans on developing a “military-to-academics” transition workshop; organizing a student support group, networking events, and other services exclusively for female veterans; hosting transfer advisors and veterans resource staff from four-year colleges and universities in the region, especially from those to which large numbers of SMC students transfer.
“Making a deeper investment in our system’s Veterans Resource Centers runs hand-in-hand with our Vision for Success,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, in a Sept. 27 press release announcing the recipients of the grant. “The boost in these resources will certainly contribute to the overall success of our student veterans.”
SMC alum and Dartmouth College transfer student Oliver Campbell credits SMC with transforming him into a scholar. A former 2nd Battalion Army Ranger who was not expected to survive a massive chest wound he had taken in southeastern Afghanistan, Campbell’s life was saved by an Army surgeon — who realized repair surgery could not wait and operated on Campbell — while a helicopter transported them to Bagram Airfield.
After medical retirement, Campbell enrolled at SMC as a full-time pre-med student, where, he says, he felt “energized” by his fellow Corsair veterans at the Veterans’ Resource Center. He transferred to Dartmouth in fall 2018 as a neuroscience major, on his way to become a trauma surgeon in the U.S. Army — to save other lives. (Campbell’s military honors include a Purple Heart, two Army Commendation Medals and a Joint Service Achievement Medal).
Another SMC alum and Marine Corps veteran Dan Hurley who transferred to Stanford University in 2017 as a Science, Technology and Society major says that during his first six months on campus, he was “kind of drifting.” But after he discovered the Veterans’ Resource Center, it became his second home.
“I began meeting other student veterans . . . we’d swap ideas, talk about classes and professors, and help prop each other up,” said Hurley, adding that without the center, his eyes would not have been “opened to the whole transfer process…the research that goes into finding the school that’s the right fit for you and helping you find the best pathway to get there.”
For more information on the SMC Veterans’ Resource Center and all its services, visit www.smc.edu/veterans or call (310) 434-8260.
Submitted by Grace Smith