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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

USI receives grant to promote academic success among student service members and veterans

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Erin Smith, veteran support services associate in the Office of the Registrar
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LaVerne Jones
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The University of Southern Indiana will use a $50,000 grant from Operation Diploma, an initiative of the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University, to institute Project Eagle - programs and policies designed by the University to boost the academic success of student service members and veterans on campus.

Andy Zellers, assistant registrar, said, "Project Eagle allows USI to consolidate existing programs and provide additional services to student veterans by hiring a veterans support services associate to develop veteran-specific orientation and mentoring programs, create and staff a dedicated gathering space, and initiate networking opportunities."

Erin Smith will serve as veteran support services associate in the Office of the Registrar. Smith was formerly a health service coordinator and incident management coordinator at Warm Hearts Care in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds a bachelor's degree in health services from USI.

During the 2009-2010 academic year, USI served 212 veterans.

Project Eagle will create:

- An orientation specifically for veterans including information on resources and programs at USI and in the community

- Improved advising for veterans, with education for faculty and staff advisors about the demands of deployment and special considerations for veterans in the classroom

- A mentoring program that will pair new student veterans with current vets who will assist them in transitioning to college life from the military.

- A student lounge for veterans

- A "Vet Breakfast in the Loft" three times per semester for student veterans with appropriate speakers and information available

Zellers said, "The University recognizes the unique challenges our student veterans face, and this grant will allow us to develop programs and services that better serve this important and deserving group of students."

As a condition of the grant, all of the programs will be in place by July 2011.

More about Operation Diploma

Launched with a $5.8 million gift from Lilly Endowment Inc., Operation Diploma empowers Indiana's institutions of higher education and student veterans' organizations to better serve student service members and veterans entering college for the first time, and those re-entering college after extended service or deployment.

More than one-third of Indiana's two- and four-year campuses submitted innovative grant proposals. Thirty proposals totaling more than $1 million were ultimately funded.

The Operation Diploma grants range from $8,500 to $100,000. In the first year of funding, award schools were granted amounts totaling more than $270, 000. During a third and final year of funding, grants to individual schools of up to $50,000 will be available.

Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, a professor of child development and family studies at Purdue and director of MFRI, said studies have shown that students who have served or are currently serving in the military often feel frustrated, alone and misunderstood when they arrive on campus. These grants will help promote academic success by tearing down barriers to higher education for this special group of students.

"Our hope is that some of the programs funded will become models for the state, as well as the nation," she said. "This is just one way MFRI and Operation Diploma are making a difference in the lives of military members and their families."



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