Sacramento State's Student Veteran Success Program provides a support system for military veterans.
Military veterans have at least one thing in common—at one time, they all called a post, base or ship home.
Sacramento State, with support from the community, is helping some of them feel right at home on campus.The University’s Student Veteran Success Program, formerly known as Troops to College, assists veterans in making the transition from military service to the classroom.
Run by the University’s Veteran Success Center, the program provides scholarship opportunities, support and assistance with admission to the University.Since its inception in 2006, hundreds of veterans, military personnel and family members have used services offered through the center. And the program is growing. More than 200 new student veterans have been accepted to the University for the fall semester.
“We talk to veterans who have served all over the world,” says Jeff Weston (‘05, Government), Sacramento State Veteran Success Center director.
“We’ve had students that were in the Middle East one week and sitting in class the next.” “I left the Marine Corps on a Friday, and started school on Monday,” said Ryan Roebuck, who served four years as Marine engineer including a seven-month deployment to battle-torn Al Anbar province in Iraq. “Coming straight into school was a little bit of a culture shock. I wouldn’t recommend it for most people.”
Weston said military members making the transition to college often have questions about tuition programs, use of the GI Bill, benefit requirements and transferring military credits to college credits. “Our job is to help make the process as smooth as possible for them. We owe them that much, to be ready when they return.”
“When I came here I didn’t know anything about the GI Bill,” says Roebuck. “I knew I had it, but I didn’t even know when I got paid. There was definitely a learning curve.”
The original Troops to College program was created by the California Legislature in 2006, but there were no funds attached to it. Because of the lack of funding, Sacramento State’s program initially could only offer limited support. But it received a huge boost in 2008 when the University Foundation at Sacramento State and SAFE Credit Union began a campaign to raise $100,000 for scholarships and other support services.
To kick off the campaign, Foundation Chair George Crandell presented a personal gift of $25,000 and SAFE Credit Union donated $10,000.
“The Student Veteran Success Program was clearly a worthy cause, but it was the leadership, energy and vision of Jeff and his staff at Veterans Affairs that fired the board’s commitment and level of support,” says Crandell.
“The campus and community have shown tremendous support for our veteran programs and have helped raise more than $140,000,” said Weston. “The money supported more than 75 scholarships and our first-ever Veterans Success Academy, which helps new student veterans take on leadership roles with the University.”
The news got even better when the Wells Fargo Foundation announced a $100,000 contribution to the program at the 2010 Green & Gold Gala.
“Wells Fargo is proud of our commitment to the Student Veteran Success Program. Our support is a way for us to give back and say thank you to our veterans for their dedicated service to our country,” said Felix Fernandez, Wells Fargo Northern California regional president. “Helping our veterans make the transition from service to college is an important effort that we feel is often overlooked and much needed.”
Weston said a good portion of the Wells Fargo gift will be used to start a veteran’s emergency loan program.
“Many veterans have to wait several months to get their GI Bill benefits, and this loan program will allow them to stay afloat until then.”
The program has also been awarded a $100,000 American Council for Education/Walmart Success for Veterans Award Grant. Sacramento State’s Student Veteran Success Program has been named one of the top veteran serving institutions nationally by GI Jobs Magazine.
“Everyone involved—the student veterans, the Center’s staff and student employees, the donors and financial supporters—is pleased with the progress we have made and are proud to have contributed to it,” says Lori Varlotta, vice president for student affairs. “Our hard work has earned us national acclaim. In just the last year, colleagues from George Mason, Penn State, Colorado State, CUNY, Oregon State and many sister CSU campuses have asked to learn more about our program.”
“In the beginning, when we were trying to find our footing, it was basically me back in a cubicle with very little interaction with students,” says Weston. “To see us go from that to a full-service center that is one of the best in the state, if not the country, is amazing. But that couldn’t have happened without support from the campus leadership and the outside community.”
The program is continuing to expand, and the office recently added a full-time benefits counselor who can provide detailed service to student veterans.
“We are so proud of everyone involved for creating what is now recognized as one of the best programs in the country,” says Crandell.
To contact Sacramento State’s Veterans Affairs Office, call (916) 278-7893 or visit csus.edu/admr/vets. To make a gift to the Student Veteran Success Program, call the Office of University Development at (916) 278-6989 or visit csus.edu/giving.