Number of military veterans rises at New Kensington campus
VETS FROM ALL BRANCHES OF SERVICE
PURSUE CAREER CHANGES
Veterans Services Office Provides Support
They came of age in three different decades. They joined three different branches of the military. They enrolled in three different academic programs. They have a lot in common.
Nathan Hand, Amber Thompson and Matt Knapp are veterans, and they are students at Penn State New Kensington. They are a part of a rapidly-expanding group that is utilizing post-military benefits to begin career changes that can lead to additional employment opportunities.
“I went straight to Penn State New Kensington after leaving the military,” said Nathan Hand, a veteran of the Air Force. “I wanted to continue my education and open up better job opportunities.”
Hand, 21, is a sophomore psychology major and a recipient of the President’s Freshman Award for achieving a 4.0 grade-point average. The Plum resident served two years of active duty at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and is currently a senior airman in the Air Force Reserve in Pittsburgh. Hand is with the 911th Airlift Wing that is based out of the Pittsburgh International Airport.
Thompson, 31, is a junior from Kittanning who is majoring in information sciences and technology with a minor in information security. When not in class, she runs a computer diagnostic and repair store in Ford City. An eight-year Navy veteran, Thompson served aboard the USS John F. Kennedy during 9/11.
“After leaving the military, I worked for two small companies,” said Thompson, a petty officer second class during her service time. “I decided to use the GI Bill for more job opportunities, and Penn State New Kensington is a good school that is close to home.”
Knapp, 44, is a senior in the business administration program. A four-year member of the Dean’s List with a 3.94 GPA, he will earn his bachelor’s degree in May. During his 12-year Army career as a military policeman, his duties ran the gamut from guarding nuclear weapons to ensuring the safety of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and vice presidents Dan Quale and Dick Chaney. He left the service after suffering lower back and ankle injuries.
“Disabilities inhibited my future in law enforcement and security,” said Knapp, who was a staff sergeant. “I want to get into human resource management, and the business program at the campus is a great way to get started in that field.”
The catalyst for veterans matriculating at the campus is the Post-9/11 GI-Bill that provides financial support for education and housing. Under the bill's Yellow Ribbon program, veterans who served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, have their tuition costs covered through shared responsibility between Penn State and the Veterans Administration.
While the financial aspects of college are not as daunting for the vets as for many traditional students, the mien of the campus can give pause for some. The age gaps challenge the campus calculus as acquaintances are formed in ways not envisioned previously.
“I was apprehensive about going back to school after a few years off,” said Hand, whose younger brother will join him on campus in the fall, “but the transition went a lot easier than I expected.”
“The slight age differences hinder relations with most students,” said Knapp, an Academic All American on the campus’ intercollegiate golf team, “but I get along great with faculty and staff and the guys on the golf team.”
“I enjoy the campus and find it a great place to learn,’ said Thompson, a native of Renfew, Pa.
Realizing that there are many challenges associated with the decision of veterans to start or return to college, Penn State New Kensington provides additional support to suit the needs of veterans. The main resource is the Veterans Services office. Diana Hill, veteran certifying official at the campus, helps veterans navigate the requirements of benefit programs.
“The campus was really good at helping me get everything sorted out with the GI Bill,” said Hand, who plans to go to graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree in 2015.
“Diana Hill and the other ladies in the office are very knowledgeable about vet programs and assistance,” said Knapp, who lives in Leechburg with his wife, Rebecca, and their two children, Dalton, 12, and Kristen, 10.
Another support feature is the Adult Learner Resource Center and Lounge that opened in 2008. It gives vets and adult learners their own space on the campus. The lounge includes a small library of resource books, coffee maker, refrigerator, microwave, a computer and printer, white board, table and chairs for small group study and comfortable chairs for relaxation. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.
“I haven’t used Veterans Services, but I do use the resource center,” said Thompson, who will be looking for an IT position with a local company after she graduates next year.
“The lounge is practically an office for me,” laughed Knapp, who is the drummer for Sourmash, a local southern rock band.
Veterans and adult learners comprise approximately 31 percent of the student population at the campus. The number of vets at the campus is expected to rise in the next few years as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars wind down and more military personnel fulfill their service obligations and return to civilian status.
Penn State New Kensington strives to support military veterans in reaching their academic goals while maintaining a healthy life balance. There are numerous academic options available to veterans, including more than 200 noncredit, certificate, associate and baccalaureate degree programs; choosing full- or part-time status; and scheduling day or evening classes. The enrollment management staff at the campus can assist prospective students with learning about options to finance a Penn State education.