NWA Veterans program expands to Fort Smith area

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 122 views 

Going back to school can be challenging after a few years sitting on the sidelines, whether it is due to a career, a new family or other reasons.

But a program that starts today (July 22) at Chaffee Crossing seeks to make the transition from the military to the classroom easier for veterans.

Veterans Upward Bound is a program that "prepares veterans for college, whether it is a university, community college or technical-vocational school," according to Janelle Bollman, director of VUB at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

The program, which came to the Fayetteville campus in 1993, has seen more than 2,200 veterans take part, helping them to gain the skills in various subjects to be successful in pursuing a higher education, according to Assistant Director of VUB Mark Stypinski.

He said a grant from the United States Department of Education enables the program to serve veterans across five counties. The program, Stypinski said, was thriving in Washington County, with sites at the Veterans Administration Hospital and the University of Arkansas, though many veterans in Crawford and Sebastian Counties were well served by the program.

That will change thanks to a partnership with the non-profit Camp Hope for Heroes at Chaffee Crossing, whose facilities adjacent to Fort Chaffee are being used to help students improve their academic skills in subjects ranging from math and science to reading and writing or a foreign language.

Bollman said the building, located at 7320 Mahogany Drive, was donated for use free of charge by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. Should VUB outgrow the facilities provided by Camp Hope for Heroes and the FCRA, she said officials with the Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center have agreed to let facilities at the military training installation be used.

There is a computer lab set up for 10 individuals, though it has a maximum capacity of 15, according to Bollman, meaning veterans can get the one-on-one attention they need while preparing for the next step in their academic journey.

"Our classes are small to ensure student veterans receive individual instruction from our highly effective instructors," said Bollman, who is a Navy veteran.

Ryan Curtis, who is VUB's program coordinator, said three instructors will teach classes on Tuesdays and Fridays, with he and instructor Haley Laffoon teaching math and another instructor teaching math, science and English.

He said learning will not only take place at Chaffee Crossing, but also anywhere students have access to an internet connection.

"We are developing learning management systems to access information online," Curtis said. "That way, veterans will have more options when learning the material."

The learning management systems will also allow veterans outside of the Fort Smith area and Northwest Arkansas to take part in the program, he said.

A veteran who has gone through the program is Sgt. Jason Cates, who served in the U.S. Army for 13 years before leaving the service in 2007.

"Overall, it helped me get acclimated to going to school," he said, adding that he had tried taking classes through an online college, but without much success.

Now a senior social work major at the University of Arkansas, Cates has gone from using VUB to improve his math and English skills to maintaining a 3.6 GPA and looking forward to attending graduate school in the near future. But he said his dreams of going to college and eventually working with veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other mental ailments would not have been possible without VUB and other campus programs for veterans.

"It was a huge adjustment," he said moving from active duty to the classroom. "If not for this program, I wouldn't have made it."

Bollman said Cates' success story and his desire to help other veterans is what the program, which is free to veterans, is all about.

"We are hoping that us all being veterans can help," she said. "We've all been through a lot of the same experiences."

More information about the program can be found at the program’s website or by calling (800) 262-1681.