Pellissippi State Community College serves one of the largest veteran populations of any Tennessee community college, and the institution does it with distinction, according to G.I. Jobs magazine.
The publishers of G.I. Jobs selected Pellissippi State for inclusion on the 2012 list of Military Friendly Schools in the fall. The list honors the 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace the country’s service members and veterans as students.
“I was very pleased with the recognition from G.I. Jobs magazine, in part because of the work and the support systems that we had put into place for these students,” said Pellissippi State President Anthony Wise.
“I think part of it is just being intentional, understanding that this particular population of students does have specific needs and concerns, and making sure, as an institution, we’ve found a means of addressing those.”
The 1,518 colleges, universities and trade schools on the list prioritize the recruitment of students with military experience. The schools offer scholarships and discounts, veterans’ clubs, full-time staff, military credit, and other support for those who served.
Pellissippi State’s recent initiatives to improve veterans’ services took shape out of a working group that began three years ago. Rebecca Ashford, vice president of Student Affairs, leads the group.
Ashford says the group’s first step was to create a brochure for veterans attending or considering attending Pellissippi State. The brochure lists services such as admissions, financial aid, advising, and veterans’ assistance, as well as disability and personal and career counseling. There are phone numbers and email addresses for staff in each department. Having points of contact was important for veterans, the group learned from a survey of Pellissippi State students.
The college offers an assortment of educational assistance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last year, 512 students received VA benefits, says Sharon Shastid, a financial aid coordinator and the college’s VA certifying official. That number represents 5 percent of the institution’s student population and includes veterans, service members, and their dependents.
Applying for benefits can be a lengthy process, so the college initiated early advising to ensure that veterans’ tuition funds arrived in time for the start of classes. At Pellissippi State’s Student Assistance Center, staff members Rachael Cragle and Ben Sugg give priority access to service members, veterans, and their dependents.
That approach eased National Guard member Mohammed Amran’s transition into school. Amran, a member of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Knoxville, began taking classes at Pellissippi State when he transferred from another National Guard unit.
“When I registered, they worked with me because I’d just moved to Tennessee due to the change of station,” said Amran, an accounting student. “They were able to work with me on in-state tuition because of that, so I thought that was nice. Of course, you have a veteran representative there, Sharon Shastid—she’s wonderful—and Ben Sugg.
“They have been very helpful throughout. I see them every semester and they’ve been very on top of everything.”
Amran says his teachers, too, have been supportive.
“The teachers, there are times when I had [National Guard] training that went over on Monday or started on Friday; they were very accommodating,” he said.
Those kinds of support are why Pellissippi State made the “military-friendly” list.
“I think it’s also the attitude,” said Kathy Douthat, a Pellissippi State counselor. “It’s being willing to go the extra mile for people who have put themselves on the line for us.”
Beyond supportive faculty and staff, Pellissippi State also provides its service members and veterans with recognition through special events—the “Conflict Zone” photography exhibit in conjunction with Memorial Day, the Remembrance Day Roll Call on Nov. 11—as well as with organizations like the Student Veterans Association. In addition, staff, faculty and the administration are offered training through webinars and conferences about veterans’ issues.
Learn more about the veterans’ assistance at Pellissippi State by visiting www.pstcc.edu/financial_aid/veterans or calling (865) 694-6405.