A retired veteran with 20 years of active duty, McCarthy entered school as a 36-year-old freshman in 2002 and earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007. He earned a master’s degree in public administration and legal studies and is working to complete a doctorate in political science.
But McCarthy, now interim veterans advocate at WVU, got a much clearer picture of WVU’s commitment after he spoke at a national conference of academic advisors in 2009. Following his presentation, the questions and comments came in waves.
“I talked about our deployment policy and I heard, ‘Deployment policy? What’s that?,’ ” McCarthy said. “I talked about how we had classes exclusively for veterans and I heard, ‘Classes for veterans? We’re not doing that yet.’ After the conference, I felt like we were head and shoulders above the crowd. In some ways we still are but there are still some things we can do to become even better.”
Being at the forefront of veterans initiatives has not only landed WVU a national reputation but has earned it a fourth straight mention on G.I.Jobs’ list of “military friendly schools.” The G.I.Jobs honor features the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America’s veterans as students.
More than 800 veterans, military personnel or their dependents are currently studying at WVU with 291 new student vets admitted this fall.
“We are honored that G.I.Jobs has named WVU, once again, a ‘military friendly’ campus,” Andrea Yanego, director of employment services, said. “We look forward to continuing our efforts to help grow our veteran population at WVU.”
McCarthy said in 2002, services or initiatives centered around veterans and veteran issues weren’t common on any campus. WVU began to incorporate some a few years later, ahead of a wave of change most institutions joined in 2008.
“2008 seems to be this defining line where people around the country started to realize that they needed something on board to take care of the veteran community,” McCarthy said.
WVU quickly established a veterans’ advocate in the Office of Financial Aid and adopted veteran-friendly classes tailored to vets’ interests and needs. It also created a network of connections all over campus to serve as resources for vets. Over the years, the University’s plans have expanded to not only help the transition to college life but to also help veteran job-seekers.
Click to hear Jerry McCarthy, interim veterans advocate at WVU, describe his initial thoughts at being a 36-year-old freshman following a career in the military, the obstacles that veterans attending college face and what vets bring to a campus and classroom.
Adventure WV serves as an outdoor orientation for first-year students at WVU; the Boeing Corp. underwrites a special Veterans Adventure WV session so veterans can take the program at no cost. A high percentage of WVU’s vets have taken advantage of the opportunity and formed new bonds with fellow vets.
Also, WVU’s Division of Human Resources aggressively pursues outreach opportunities to connect employers with prospective veteran employees in the area. Human Resources leads the West Virginia Veterans’ Employment Initiative group, which serves as a clearinghouse for veterans issues. The group, which includes state agencies, discusses and shares ideas on how best to connect veterans with resources. The group’s main goal is to assist veterans in reintegrating into civilian life as a student or employee.
One of WVU’s most recent initiatives is the expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program to include graduate programs in the School of Public Health, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. These colleges have funded 100 percent of a student’s portion of out-of-state tuition for the 2012-13 school year. The School of Nursing has funded 75 percent of out-of-state tuition as part of the program.
The Yellow Ribbon program is an extension of the 9/11 GI Bill that pays all in-state tuition and fees at public colleges and university for eligible students. WVU has taken part in the Yellow Ribbon program for undergraduate out-of-state students for years, but this is the first year that the University has offered it to graduate students.
Click to hear Jerry McCarthy, WVU's interim veteran's advocate, talk about the benefits for student-veterans at WVU and what the future holds for the veteran community at WVU.
“We’ve created a synergy,” McCarthy said. “Now the word’s starting to spread and we’re hearing from other colleges.”
Another initiative that McCarthy led was creating and securing grant money for the Military to Mountaineer Mentoring Program.
Funded by the WV Higher Education Policy Commission, the initiative establishes six programs over the course of the academic year to enrich the academic experience for first-year veterans and assist in transitioning to WVU.
The program will pair new student veterans coming to WVU with other student vets who have successfully made the transition. It will also pair new student veterans with a faculty or staff member who will serve as a mentor.
McCarthy said most vets are used to working in teams and the freedom and autonomy students enjoy on campus can also be daunting to first-time and non-traditional students. The aim of Military to Mountaineer Mentoring Program is to develop a team that will positively impact on veterans’ retention and academic success rates.
In the near future, McCarthy hopes to integrate all veteran services into an area on campus called the West Virginia University Military and Veterans Service Center. The Center would serve as a one-stop shop for veterans and include classroom space and coordinators to assist with benefits and paperwork. It would also offer academic and psychological counseling and serve as a meeting place for student veterans.
With these initiatives in place, McCarthy thinks WVU will soon achieve its goal of being the most military-friendly campus in the U.S.
“We’ve always been ahead of the curve when it comes to programs and services way ahead,” he said. “We’re still ahead of some who have a lot more resources than we do.”
CONTACT: Jerry McCarthy, WVU interim Veterans Advocate
Andrea Yanego; WVU Division of Human Resources
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