Military service man saluting the American flag

Supporting our veterans in their educational goals

By Laura B. Leatherwood, Ed.D., president of Blue Ridge Community College

Blue Ridge Community College is committed to serving our veterans and is a designated Military-Friendly College. We understand that the ability to pursue an education is a result of the sacrifices our veterans have made through their service to protect our freedoms as Americans.

As a college, we can give back to our veterans by coming alongside them in their personal educational journeys. This includes providing resources and services to help them be successful in their transition from the military to civilian life.

Helping student-veterans transition to civilian life

For many veterans, the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult. The loss of camaraderie and the sense of “being on a team” is quite challenging for many. Some veterans are also dealing with service-related disabilities or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that the general population of students are unaware of or do not have to face themselves. Also, for many of our student-veterans, it has been a while since they have been in school, so they may struggle academically.

To help them adjust, we offer one-on-one onboarding for new student-veterans with Crystal Smith, our veteran services coordinator.

“Crystal has been really helpful,” says Brandon Hardesty, a student-veteran pursuing an associate degree in computer integrated machining at Blue Ridge. “She knows how to work with the VA. She also works with our teachers and helps us as much as possible.”

Hardesty served in the United States Air Force and was stationed in Charleston, S.C. He began attending Blue Ridge in January 2018, just weeks after concluding his military service.

“My transition from the military to school was stressful,” says Hardesty. “I didn’t have a lot of the tools I needed and I felt alone. I had a difficult time grasping civilian life.”

He says Blue Ridge Veterans Services helped him make the transition.

“They tuned in to my needs, helped me stay afloat and kept an eye on me,” he says. “They make sure veterans are well-supported because it’s difficult when you first get out.”

Blue Ridge Community College Veterans Club

Hardesty is active in the Blue Ridge Community College Veterans Club, which is dedicated to providing opportunities for student-veterans to network, socialize, participate in projects to help the college and the community as a whole, and bring awareness to events and causes important to veterans.

“We just started this year and have a solid group,” he says. “I really like the Veterans Club because everyone there understands each other and we support one another. It offers so many opportunities to help veterans succeed.”

Scholarships and financial aid for veterans

The Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation offers two scholarships specifically for veterans: the Elgin Veterans Scholarship and the Veterans & Families Scholarship. Hardesty says Blue Ridge helped him obtain scholarships to finance his schooling – he recently earned a Valor Worldwide Military Scholarship.

While all of our degrees and diplomas and most of our curriculum certificates are eligible for G.I. Bill benefits, we are also reviewing our continuing education programs to see if more of those could qualify for veterans benefits to broaden the training opportunities available to student-veterans.

Expanding our veteran mentorship programs

We believe mentoring relationships are another key component in supporting our veterans. Through our mentoring program, we match a faculty or staff member who is a veteran with a student-veteran seeking guidance.

This spring, we’ll implement a new student-to-student mentoring program. In this program, a new student-veteran will be paired with a current student-veteran within their same program of study or from the same branch of the military.

The student-mentors will provide campus tours, extend invitations to Veterans Club-sponsored events, introduce new students to resources on campus and be available to answer any questions the new student has. We are excited about this new program and believe it will help new student-veterans become acclimated to college culture and feel more at ease about making the transition.

Together, all of these programs offer support to veterans in the next phase of their lives.

“I definitely encourage other veterans to go to Blue Ridge,” says Hardesty. “They will help you with what you need.”

To learn more about Blue Ridge’s veterans’ services, visit www.blueridge.edu.

Laura B. Leatherwood, Ed.D., is the president of Blue Ridge Community College. Prior to Blue Ridge, she served for 17 years in various roles at Haywood Community College. Dr. Leatherwood holds a doctorate degree in university and community college leadership, a master’s degree in human resource development, and a bachelor’s degree in business law, all from Western Carolina University.