USCA’s Veterans Center cited for success

Staff photo by Rob Novit At an Aiken Rotary Club meeting on Monday, guest speaker Robert Murphy, left, USC Aiken’s Veterans Success Center director, talks with Paul Dusenbury, center, and Nat Green. Murphy discussed the growing program and announced a national award.

The Military Times, a U.S. company, has selected USC Aiken’s Veteran and Military Student Success Center as a top performer in the “Best for Vets College 2016” rankings for the second straight year.

A total of 125 four-year colleges nationally earned the recognition, and USCA finished 80th. That’s especially impressive, said Veterans Center Director Robert Murphy at an Aiken Rotary Club meeting Monday – two days before Veterans Day.

“No other South Carolina college got this recognition,” said Robert Murphy, director of Veteran and Military Student Success at USCA.

The other colleges ranked include Texas A&M University, Mississippi State, Florida State and the University of Michigan. USCA has a total enrollment of about 3,400 students – far less than nearly all the other universities.

USCA has 314 veterans and active-duty military personnel on campus.

“That’s nearly 9 percent of the total enrollment,” Murphy said. “Most school have about 3 percent. We had 175 students last year and some graduated; we have 131 new students in this fall alone.”

The Success Center provides a “one-stop place” for veterans, helping them in class registration, benefits educational assistance and career options. Elizabeth Fonte coordinates Center programs and school certification. The Center has two other paid staffers and also many veterans who assist others throughout the year.

Murphy said he was honored to have the opportunity to attend the Rotary meeting. Dozens of members served in the military, and some members and guests were formally recognized; some even participated during the Vietnam War and other conflicts.

“I’m in awe of your experience,’ said Murphy, a 23-year Marine Corps veteran. “For those of you who served in the Cold War, if you had gotten orders to go overseas, you would have done so.”

Many of the veterans at USCA deployed once or more to Iraq or Afghanistan, or both. All the veterans at the university have the opportunity to meet others who share their experiences.

“It provides a transition for them,” Murphy said. “They get a lot of academic support and a high level of camaraderie. It’s a transition for them. They were part of a community (during their service) and now they can reintegrate back into a community here.”

In the near future, Murphy plans to pursue efforts to provide additional support for military spouses. He also hopes in the second semester to establish a network of veterans centers at other colleges statewide and within the CSRA.

In a press release, Military Times officials said the rankings initiative is done through such factors as embracing service members and their families and ongoing nurturing opportunities.

“We award the Best for Vets designation to the very best – the colleges that really are setting the example,” said Amanda Miller, the program editor.

Rob Novit covers general news and features for the Aiken Standard. He majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.