Friday, November 12, 2010

Combat2College aids veterans with education

From the Maryland Gazette:

Marine Corps veteran Kyle Cobb (pictured) was on active duty for five years, stationed in such places as Bahrain and Iraq and completing military training in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

The 25-year-old Minnesota native was planning to re-enlist in 2009 when a roommate told him about a program at Montgomery College that provides academic and social opportunities, as well as support services for veterans and active/reserve service members.

He saw it as an opportunity to serve in another way: becoming a police officer.

A year later, through the program Combat2College, Cobb is a student at Montgomery College who will be transferring after the fall semester to Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., to pursue a four-year degree in criminal justice.

"Looking back, they definitely made the initial transition a lot easier," said Cobb, who is the president of the Rockville Student Veterans and Service Members Club at Montgomery College. "It's something that I'm thankful that they do have."

Combat2College, or C2C, was developed in 2008 as a way to assist veterans and service members with the transition from military service to college.

It is now drawing national attention from other colleges interested in duplicating the program on their campuses.

Rose Sachs, C2C program coordinator and chairwoman for Montgomery College's Disability Support Services, said she is contacted at least once a week by college officials around the country who want more information on the C2C program.

The idea first developed when Joseph Bleiberg, a senior fellow at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., contacted Sachs about starting a college program to assist veterans with disabilities.

The idea expanded to include all veterans, both disabled and non-disabled, with representatives from organizations such as the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington, D.C. taking part in the planning process.

"Folks are coming back from combat and military training with a whole set of skills that we need to help them translate to college," Sachs said. "We're helping them identify their skills and using those skills."

In fall 2008, C2C was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation. Besides hiring two part-time staff members, Jason Franklin and Joanna Starling, a Marine veteran and his wife, Sachs said all the money went toward student expenses such as textbooks and supplies.

Sachs said the college also received the Bell Award from the Montgomery County Mental Health Association at a Nov. 5 legislative breakfast held at The Universities at Shady Grove. The Bell Award is the association's highest honor recognizing excellence in mental health advocacy and wellness.

C2C features counseling and advising sessions, free tutoring, access to a gym and fitness programs such as acupuncture therapy and mixed martial arts, and opportunities for veterans to interact socially.

Sachs said C2C has no official budget and receives on-and-off funding and support from college faculty, administrators and staff, and local groups.

Through the program, Cobb said he was able to meet and befriend other veterans like himself.

"It was kind of awkward being in a classroom where the other students were about seven to eight years younger than you," Cobb said. "Sometimes it's nice to be around people your own age, and it's good to have somebody to relate to.

"I definitely think it's a good program to have, and I definitely think it should be something more schools around the country should be looking into," Cobb said.

Sachs said she predicts a growing need for programs such as C2C for veterans and service members in the coming years.

"More and more community colleges are becoming more and more places where people come to heal," Sachs said. "It's a healing environment. In a way, we've become a place of rehabilitation."