Easing the transition for student veterans
By Theresa Katalinas
Every day feels like Veterans Day for Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) student veterans.
MCCC— recently designated as a Military Friendly® School by Victory Media for the seventh time and ranked as one of the top 25 Best for Vets schools among all two-year colleges nationwide by Military Times—helps student veterans make the transition from military to civilian and student life as seamless as possible.
MCCC’s Central Campus in Blue Bell offers a Veterans Resource Center for student veterans to gather, listen to discussions integral to veteran issues and meet with Veterans Resource Coordinator Michael Brown, who is also a veteran, for help with benefits and services. Its West Campus in Pottstown houses a Veterans Resource office with part-time Veterans Resources Coordinator Denise Williams.
Veteran students describe some of the challenges of the transition process and how services help them.
Brandon Bailey, of Norristown, a paratrooper who served in the Army with the 82nd Airborne Division, said it took him about a year to “gain more of a humble state” and integrate back into civilian life.
“In a way I didn’t want to deal with anything,” he said. “I was still in a very military mindset.”
For Bailey, studying at MCCC helped ease what had been a “rough” transition.
“I felt right at home when I got here,” Bailey said. “I’ve always enjoyed talking to different people about their experiences.”
Luis Fuentes, who continues to serve in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard while studying communications and computer networking at MCCC, said professors are more understanding and accommodating of veterans’ needs.
“We talk on a different wave length,” said Fuentes, of Phoenixville, adding that professors frequently offer extra office hours and are available for one-on-one conversations about grades. “We want to get ahead of the game as best as we can.”
The Veterans Resource Center provides a place for student veterans to “really relax, calm down and focus on our school work,” Fuentes said.
Bronwyn Bartechko began her studies at MCCC in 2008 prior to enlisting six years in the Air Force. Two weeks after completing her military service, in the spring of 2016, Bartechko returned to MCCC.
“The College really offers so much assistance,” she said. “I wouldn’t have survived my first semester, let alone made it this far.”
Bartechko, of Boyertown, got reintegrated into student life by attending the College’s Veterans Mindfulness Retreat during the spring semester.
“It was a great time to get to know everybody,” she said. “I was in such a go, go, go mode. I didn’t have a lot of time to kind of process what was going on in my life. It really provided that group dynamic.”
Quentin Gipson, who is studying computer networking with a concentration in cyber security, also attended the retreat. An aircraft technician who served eight years in the U.S. Navy through 2011, Gipson, of Virginia, said the retreat was a “great experience” and one he hopes the College will continue to offer.
Gipson said he found it beneficial “just being in an environment to decompress” and “find out who I am as a person.”
Photo: From left: Student veterans Brandon Bailey, Bronwyn Bartechko, Quentin Gipson, and Luis Fuentes meet in the Veterans Resource Center at Central Campus in Blue Bell. Photo by Sandi Yanisko