Building a veterans center might not seem out of the ordinary, but when you’re an online-only college, it can be a head-turner.
American Military University did just that at the unveiling of its new veterans center in Charles Town, West Virginia on April 29.
One might wonder how a brick-and-mortar veterans’ center would serve the student body of an online institution, but AMU executives have bigger plans than that.
George Vukovich, AMU’s director of veterans outreach, said the center will focus on veterans in the community.
“It’s not necessarily the student body, but the vets who aren’t getting everything they really need,” Vukovich said.
The U.S. Military University celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016, and Vukovich said opening the veterans center at the same time seemed like a natural fit. Jefferson County, where Charles Town is located, was home to nearly 5,000 veterans from 2010 to 2014, according to the US Census Bureau.
AMU moved from Manassas, Virginia to Charles Town in 2003 and received regional accreditation from the Commission on Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 2006. Between ownership and leasing, the campus of Charles Town has 13 buildings, three of which have been built in the last five years. About two-thirds of the American Public University System’s 932 employees work in Charles Town, making it Jefferson County’s second largest employer.
The university has a Virtual Veterans Center where students can share job ideas and opportunities and discuss coursework. The new center not only introduces a physical location, but opens AMU’s doors to the community as a whole.
A place to meet and learn
The new center will provide health care information, including services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s a great tool for us,” said Sarah Tolstyka, spokeswoman for the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia, about a half hour from the AMU campus.
She said the medical center treated more than 35,000 veterans in 2015 and she looks forward to the new space at AMU where vets can feel camaraderie with those who have been in similar situations.
“Sharing this space with their brothers and sisters that they fought with is really nice.”
One of the center’s goals is to ‘give back to the community of adult learners’ who want to further their education, such as attending community college, Vukovich said – making sure veterans get the education and help they need, wherever they are.
In addition to serving as a community space for veterans, AMU will offer training programs and seminars like the academic boot camp held there in March, which helped veterans hone their reading skills. , writing and mathematics.
A smooth start to the university
John Palmer, an Army veteran who volunteers at Martinsburg VA Medical Center, said AMU’s center will provide an educational environment for veterinarians who struggle with crowds in a classroom setting.
“With a lot of combat veterans, it can be very distracting and disruptive,” said Palmer, who attended college boot camp in March. “Even if it’s the sound of scraping chairs or falling notebooks.”
Palmer said education was on the back burner when he served in the military as a tank gunner and tank commander in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We weren’t too worried about education because it was strictly combat,” he said.
AMU’s center will provide a more comfortable setting for veterans learning with their peers, he said.
“It decreases anxiety because you feel like you’re not the only one.”
For young vets, he said academic skills give them something to hold on to.
“It gives them the confidence to brush up on basic college-entry skills,” Palmer said.
American Military University opened its veterans center on April 29 in Charles Town, West Virginia.
Photo Credit: Daniel Woolfolk/Staff
A future goal of the new center is to provide a business incubator where local leaders can mentor current or budding entrepreneurs. The APUS-sponsored Eastern Panhandle Technology Innovation Center will also provide guidance to veterinarians starting their own businesses.
Most people have misconceptions about how the online arena really works, Vukovich said.
“They think it’s a single entity in a corner of a warehouse,” he said. “We have a campus lifestyle without the foot traffic.”
Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith said the city is proud to have the new center.
“It will truly be an honor to serve the men and women who have so bravely served us,” Smith said. “We welcome the veteran center with open arms and look forward to helping if needed.”
Palmer said having the AMU Veterans Center so close to the VA hospital will help vets be more productive.
“As veterans, we tend to need something a little more tangible to hold on to, to get us back on track,” he said.
Charlsy Panzino covers veteran education, employment and transition issues, as well as travel, entertainment and fitness. Email him at email@example.com.