ADA — Veterans who become college students after serving in the military often have to juggle family and job responsibilities with coursework. Many haven’t been in a classroom in a long time. Their parents aren’t paying the bills; they are.
“It’s hard enough to make the change to academic life coming from wherever you are, but going from military to civilian life is another big change,” said Mary Meeks, director of Veterans Upward Bound at East Central University.
“We can help them prepare and make that transition a good transition.”
Veterans Upward Bound is a free U.S. Department of Education program designed to help veterans refresh their academic skills and give them the resources and confidence needed to complete a college degree.
Services include short-term remedial or refresher classes, assistance with applications to the college or university of choice, help applying for financial aid, personal counseling, career counseling and assistance getting veterans services from other resources.
Oklahoma has Veterans Upward Bound programs at ECU and Redlands Community College in El Reno.
Veterans don’t have to attend only those schools to receive services.
“Our mission is to help military veterans who are thinking of going to school,” Meeks said. “We want to give them an opportunity to get a leg up. Our whole goal is to make sure they are set up for success.”
Corrynn Franklin served in the Navy from 2002 to 2010. That’s where she met her husband, Joshua.
When they got out of the service in San Diego, she began pursuing a degree in nuclear engineering. Then the family moved to her husband’s hometown of Ada.
While Franklin was questioning what she would do next, she came across information about veterans’ services on ECU’s website.
She wanted to go back to college, but she also had to be a mother to daughter Kaydie, who was going into prekindergarten.
“I needed some flexibility in my classes,” said Franklin, 32. She also needed to complete a lot of paperwork and gather transcripts from previous schools and the military.
Everything came together, thanks to the Veterans Upward Bound staff.
“They’re amazing,” Franklin said. “I was overwhelmed. They let my daughter color while I was filling out paperwork. They made the process of enrolling easy.
“I was able to get classes that work for me at the times I needed. When Kaydie was ready to start school, I was ready to start school.”
Franklin is on track to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration next summer.
“I’ll be looking for a job soon,” she said.
Franklin made some contacts at the Veterans and Military Appreciation Day hosted by Veterans Upward Bound. More than 60 programs, organizations, schools and employers that provide goods and services to and for veterans and their families participated in the event on campus.
After 15 years as program director, Meeks has met veterans with a wide range of goals and needs.
“We have young to old. We’ve had some folks in their 60s and one veteran in his 70s who wanted to come back and get his degree for his grandchildren,” she said.
The average age is about 35. Some need to brush up on academic skills. Others need to make connections for financial help.
Whatever the need, her staff is there to help.
“It’s really a holistic thing. If you don’t have a place to live or a way to get around, it’s hard to sit and learn in a class,” Meeks said.
She makes sure her office is available when a veteran needs to use a computer, talk to someone or just take a break.
“We’re respectful and we listen and we care,” Meeks said. “We’re their battle buddy on the college campus.”