College Honors Military Service of Students and Staff on Veterans Day

by Diane VanDyke and Alana J. Mauger

To commemorate Veterans Day, Montgomery County Community College held informal breakfast receptions at both of its campuses to recognize the military service of the College’s more than 350 student veterans and staff.

During the last few years, the number of military and veteran students has increased significantly because of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the tuition benefits available in recent years under the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008, also known as Post-9/11 GI Bill.

This fall, 362 student veterans are enrolled at the College, an increase of 16 percent over last year, and a 50 percent increase over fall 2008.

Even before the recent enrollment increase, the College has a strong history of being accessible and supportive to veteran and military students. That support led to MCCC being nationally ranked in the top 15 percent of all higher education institutions in the country for the second consecutive year by G.I. Jobs magazine.

“The key to providing the appropriate support services is listening to and developing an understanding of their needs,” said Dr. Ann Marie Donohue, Associate Professor of Psychology, who organized informal chat sessions in the past with veteran/military students for this purpose.

“It takes time for veterans and military students to adjust to civilian culture,” Dr. Donohue said. “Each person faces different aspects of transition and nothing is true for everyone.”

This fall, Dr. Donohue is teaching a new version of the College’s two-credit course, “Strategies for College Success,” that is specially designed to meet the needs of veterans and help prepare them to be successful college students.

Navy Reservist David Diaz and Marine Corps Reservist Sarah Benham. Photo by Diane VanDyke

“Because Dr. Donohue’s class is all veterans, we are able to share and discuss issues that relate to us,” said Marine Corps Reservist Sarah Benham, of Ambler, who is a full-time Nursing student.

Benham joined the Marine Corps Reserves based in Willow Grove when she was 20, and was deployed to Iraq for four months following nine months of basic training. She also served a tour of duty in South America and North Carolina.

“Adjusting to school from the real world was tough,” said Marine Corps reservist Bryan Lukens, of Schwenksville, who served two tours of duty in Iraq. “My instructors are supportive and work with my schedule when I have drill dates, and my advisors tell me in advance what I’ll need for courses. They are great tools in the toolbox.”

Marine Corps Reservist Bryan Lukens. Photo by Diane VanDyke

A husband and father of two young children, Lukens will graduate in May with an Associate in Fine Arts (AFA) degree from the College, and he hopes to transfer to Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Much of his paintings and drawings depict scenes from Iraq.

In recent years, student veterans formed their own peer-support group, Student Veterans Organization, which operates within the College’s Office of Student Leadership and Involvement. In addition to providing a social and support network, the club helps with orientation, organizes career placement opportunities and advocates for veterans’ rights in legislation.

This semester, the Student Veterans Organization meets the second Friday of each month from 4:30-6 p.m. alternating between the Central and West campuses. Dr. Donohue works closely with the group, along with Veterans Academic Advisor George Pannebaker and Coordinator of Accelerated and Off Campus Programs Mary Beth Bryers.

A veteran himself, Pannebaker has more than 25 years of experience working for the Veterans Administration before coming to the College in 2008. In addition to academic advising, he helps veterans navigate the VA application process and obtain counseling services through local organizations.

Bryers works directly with active military students to help them transfer their credits from other colleges and obtain college credits for military education courses, as well as applicable military experience based upon the American Council on Education guidelines. She also facilitates the College’s partnership with the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Willow Grove, where both military and civilian students can take courses and earn degrees in General and Liberal Studies.

“George Pannebaker is amazing,” said Navy Reservist David Diaz, of Ambler. “If every school had a guy like him, a lot more veterans would be in school. Returning to school was much easier than I expected because George knows the system and because of the support and understanding of Mary Beth Bryers and Dr. Ann Marie Donohue.”

Diaz, who serves as vice president of the Student Veterans Organization, will graduate in May with a Liberal Studies degree. He has already been accepted to Temple University, and his ultimate goal is to become a doctor of osteopathy. While stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, Diaz underwent training for combat medicine. He was also stationed in Willow Grove, South America, Iraq and North Carolina during his four years of active duty.

The College is a member of the Service Members Opportunity Colleges, a consortium of higher education institutions that functions in cooperation with the Department of Defense and the Military Services to help meet service members’ higher education needs. SOC members ensure that high-quality academic programs are available to military students.

For more information about Veterans Affairs at Montgomery County Community College, contact George Pannebaker at 215-619-7307 or gpanneba@mc3.edu.

To find out whether your military training or experience is eligible for academic credit, contact Mary Beth Bryers at 215-641-6319 or mbryers@mc3.edu.

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