Area veterans will have the opportunity to attain college degrees and enter some of the area’s fastest growing employment sectors through Veterans Upward Bound, a national outreach program that will be based at Rochester Institute of Technology. The university and an extensive group of community partners, including the Veterans Outreach Center, are coordinating a program to support veterans as they progress toward postsecondary education and career prospects.
“People were using the majority of their GI benefits trying to get ready for college, only to find that when they finally get into a college program, they have limited funds left to complete their degrees,” said James Lee, principal investigator of the Veterans Upward Bound grant for RIT, adding that veterans with high school diplomas or GED preparation often needed some remedial coursework to qualify for university degree programs and used their benefits for this preparation. The program will fund this early preparation allowing veterans to acquire foundational courses and services—assessment, placement and tutoring—before using the GI benefits.
RIT will receive $257,250 per year, nearly $1.3 million, for five years of the Veterans Upward Bound program through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education TRIO program. The goal is to attract 125 veterans each year for the five years of the program.
“The Rochester region is home to more than 70,000 veterans. That’s about one out of every 15 residents. We owe nothing but the best to all of those who put their lives on the line to defend our country, and that includes the best possible education,” said U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. “This major award from the Department of Education will help local veterans earn their degree and prepare for their future. I congratulate RIT on becoming home to such an important program.”
Program partners will coordinate a range of programs specific to academic preparation for college, tutoring services and completion of the application processes for college and financial aid.
“The program focuses on the gap period – the people in this program will already have either GED or a high school diploma but have not yet completed postsecondary education. Our job is get these students ready to enter college so that they are ready for coursework and to make the very best use of their GI benefits,” said Lee, who is the department chair of the electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering technology department in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST).
CAST will partner with RIT’s Division for Diversity and Inclusion (DDI) to leverage the academic strengths of these two divisions to meet an important regional need, Lee added. Other support areas include financial literacy, career counseling, mentoring and healthcare. Regional partners include the Veterans Outreach Center; VITAL—the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, a service within the Veterans Administration; Pathstone Inc., a nonprofit supporting homeless veterans; and Rochester Works, as well as regional community colleges and local companies.
With more than 73,000 veterans in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area, according to the U.S. Census, the program would be a means to provide resources necessary to prepare and assist veterans in post-secondary education toward gaining the skills necessary for growing economic development initiatives such as photonics and electronics manufacturing. Although many organizations in the area provide academic and career services for veterans once they are enrolled in college, none provide pre-college services that prepare them for entry without the need for remedial coursework.
The RIT Division for Diversity and Inclusion will also work closely with Lee and members of CAST to provide centralized campus resources, having extensive experience supporting under-served populations through its Higher Education Opportunities Program, McNair Scholars and I’m First program for first-generation college students. The division was recently awarded separate DOE grants for its Upward Bound program focusing on helping to prepare high school age students gain admission to college. RIT’s Veterans Affairs department staff and student leaders from the campus Army and Air Force ROTC programs will also participate.
“We see this as a two-way street with ROTC. These students are interested in going into the military. That is where I see the veterans being able to contribute, because the veterans have been there, and they can help guide the students. And the ROTC students can also help the veterans in terms of getting back into the academic mind set, but also building a sense of camaraderie with each other,” Lee said.
In 2016, RIT’s Center for Electronics Manufacturing and Assembly, the Veterans Outreach Center, Rochester Works! and Adecco Staffing provided a training program for unemployed or under-employed area veterans. They received skills training and certification in advanced manufacturing and electronics assembly with many of the participants receiving entry level job offers or advancement. Similar programming will be available to the veterans and Lee expects that the overall Veterans Upward Bound programming can fill a growing niche in New York state.
“I anticipate veteran services and needs just growing,” he said. “Although we have been granted this for the five-year period, I look at this as a long-term vision. What if we were able to support our veterans before they are discharged, and get them set up so that when they are discharged, they are ready to roll.”
More information can be found by calling the program manager at 585-475-6259.