When Alison Warlitner joined the Navy, she figured it would be a way to pay for college.
As it turned out, she would need more than those educational benefits to pursue her degree. That’s why Warlitner is glad she stumbled into the Veterans Resource Center at Clark College.
” ‘Stumble’ is a good verb,” Warlitner said. “I came stumbling in, with my 3-month old and my 2-year-old.”
Warlitner met with Kelly Jones, who was the center’s coordinator then.
“She showed me how to set up a program, got me going and sent me on my way. I’m a full-time student now,” Warlitner said.
She’s also on the honor roll, although “Last term, I got a couple of B’s,” Warlitner said.
At A Glance
What: Veterans Resource Center
Where: Penguin Union Building, Room 015
Given the courses that the former Navy electronics and telecommunications technician is taking, “It was going to happen some time,” she said.
Warlitner is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
“I hope to work in cybersecurity,” said Warlitner. Her husband, Scott, also is a Navy veteran attending Clark. They met while they were stationed together.
The Warlitners are among almost 600 veterans enrolled at Clark College. The resource center is their link to veterans benefits, which includes financial help.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill funds 36 to 48 months of tuition. There is a cap, but it’s enough money for all public colleges in the state. There also is housing assistance and a textbook subsidy.
Some veterans also earn a little money by participating in work-study programs.
Not all the benefits are financial. The center is a good environment for people making the transition from military to civilian life, several veterans said.
“It’s a good place for support: people I can relate to,” said Shayne Schueller, who spent four years on active duty with a Marine artillery unit. “When you’re around other veterans, you can unwind.”
Erik Martinez was one of the veterans working with Schueller, Daren Bali and William Long recently at the front desk of the resource center. Martinez enrolled at Clark College after 10 years in the Marine Corps, including deployments to Iraq in 2005 and 2007. He is studying addiction counseling.
“I had a lot of family fall to addictions,” Martinez said.
Ease the transition
Martinez credits the resource center with easing his transition from military service to the classroom.
“Going back to school was challenging for me,” said Martinez. “It takes a year to make a Marine or a soldier. Getting out is a one-week thing. That’s where the hard transition lies.”
Dave Daly, the center’s program coordinator, said military experience can give veterans some skills for higher-ed success, including leadership, time management and work ethic. But there are transition difficulties, said Daly, a Marine veteran whose enlistment from 1989 to 1999 included serving in Desert Storm.
596 veterans enrolled at Clark
484 are solely supported by GI benefits
79% are male
485 are 25 or older
81% are first-generation college students
27% are students of color
Veterans can be quite a bit older than classmates who were in high school a year ago. (Some are still in high school and attending Clark as Running Start students).
An advocacy message distributed by the resource center explained that veterans can have difficulties switching their focus to something that is not related to their military experience. They also can bring some interesting life experiences to campus.
Long was an Army infantryman for almost 12 years. During deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was near blasts when three improvised explosive devices were detonated.
There were no visible wounds. “Not a scratch,” Long said. But he had brain trauma and internal injuries that required surgery.
The Warlitners served aboard the Navy destroyer USS Cole a few years after 17 sailors were killed by a 2000 suicide bombing in the Gulf of Aden.
Did You Know?
• Clark College is on the 2018 “Best Colleges” list published by the Military Times. Clark is listed among the top 24 career and technical colleges in the country for former or current U.S. military service members.
“It’s a working piece of history,” Alison Warlitner said. “In the mess line, there are 17 gold stars laid out. You don’t step on them.”
In addition to a welcoming environment, the center is a place where veterans can borrow textbooks, use computers and take advantage of free tutoring.
One of the volunteer tutors is Randy Broberg, a former college math instructor. He’s a Navy veteran himself, enlisting in 1967.
The benefits provide $1,000 a year for books. But a chemistry book can cost $300, Daly said. That’s for one class, for one quarter.
Daly buys as many textbooks as donations allow and loans them out each quarter.
“I pick up a few calculators on eBay,” also funded by donations, Daly said.
Advisory board helps
A recent funding boost was provided by an advisory board that was formed to support the Veterans Resource Center.
Les Burger, one of three retired generals on the advisory board, said it stemmed from a conversation with Clark College President Bob Knight, a retired Army colonel.
“He asked if a few of us could put together a group,” said Burger, whose last-active duty assignment was as the commanding general at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The board’s goal was to raise the center’s profile and establish some connections in the community. The board held a bingo-and-auction benefit in May that raised $35,000 for the resource center. And with about 210 people attending, there was plenty of potential for community connections.
The connections also work on a person-to-person level, Daly said. A local employer paid for the books for one student, in the hope that the veteran would go to work for the business after completing the course at Clark.
Not all of the veterans at Clark College represent recent chapters of American history. Steve Mahoney enlisted in the Army in 1974. His job was tactical wire operations specialist, which included switchboard duty.
To put that era in perspective, “I used the same switchboard that Radar O’Reilly used on the TV show ‘M.A.S.H.,’ ” Mahoney said.