Veterans Day: Committed to Serving Those Who Serve

by Alana J. Mauger

At age 23, Montgomery County Community College student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alan Poindexter, Philadelphia, is re-adjusting to civilian life after sustaining a brain injury during a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2009.

A three-year U.S. Marine Corps infantryman, Poindexter suffered brain damage when his vehicle hit an IED in Afghanistan, four months after his deployment.

“It’s a hard adjustment to make everyday. The pace is so different. I just try to keep myself as busy as possible,” he said.

He’s keeping himself busy by taking classes and working full-time, in addition to serving as the vice president of the College’s African-American Student League.

Encouraged by his father, who returned to school himself after retiring from the U.S. Navy, Poindexter started taking classes at the College in January 2010. He recently changed his major from Liberal Studies to Emergency Management Planning, and after graduating, he looks to transfer to a four-year institution and secure a job as a fire fighter, U.S. Marshall or with FEMA.

While his father’s encouragement got him through the door, Poindexter cites that it’s the work of the College’s Veterans Affairs team in the Student Success Center that kept him there.

In 2008, the College established a Veterans Affairs Office and hired a dedicated veterans academic advisor, George Pannebaker. A veteran himself, Pannebaker also has more than 25 years of experience working for the Veterans Administration.

“If Mr. Pannebaker wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be in school,” said Poindexter, adding that the paperwork itself is an overwhelming task. “He’s willing to drop everything to help.”

Poindexter is one of 378 student veterans enrolled at the College this fall – an increase of 52 percent since fall 2008. One reason for this increase is the expansion in 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.

However, another reason for the increase is the College’s commitment to providing support services to student veterans is part of its overarching Student Success Initiative. The initiative focuses on expanding access to higher education and increasing student success by implementing process improvements and support strategies that reduce the barriers for students to complete their education.

“The Veterans Affairs Office at MCCC is the best around,” said Paul Dooley, Ambler, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a General Studies major. “No other college in the area has the knowledge and skill of these individuals.”

In addition to Pannebaker, other veterans affairs team members include Coordinator of Accelerated and Off Campus Programs Mary Beth Bryers and Associate Professor of Psychology and Student Veterans Organization advisor Dr. Ann Marie Donohue. They work closely with representatives from the Student Success Center, Financial Aid and Disability Services, among other areas, to ensure that student veterans have access to the resources necessary for success.

Because of this support, Montgomery County Community College has been nationally ranked in the top 20 percent of all higher education institutions in the country by G.I. Jobs magazine for three consecutive years.

“My very first semester of college education was a breeze thanks to George [Pannebaker],” said Criminal Justice major Daniel Gonzalez, Harleysville, who spent four years of active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps as Crew Chief of an Amphibious Assault Vehicle. “He helped me pick courses and guided me thru everything that I needed to know about college.”

A graduate of the Montgomery County Police Academy, Gonzalez plans to work for the Pennsylvania State Police, and he continues to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Liberal Studies major Chris McAndrew, East Norriton, a seven-year veterinary technician in the U.S. Army Reserves, offers advice to fellow veterans.

“I encourage any veterans who aren’t sure what they want to do to come in and speak with Mr. Pannebaker and see what options are available,” he said.

McAndrew will graduate in May with an associate’s degree from the College and has already been accepted into the RN-BSN program at Gwynedd-Mercy College.

For more information about Veterans Affairs at Montgomery County Community College, contact George Pannebaker at 215-619-7307 or gpanneba@mc3.edu. To learn more about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, visit www.gibill.va.gov.

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