Veterans brush up on classes before college

STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Student Willie Glover, left, points out information on the computer to Student Assistant Josh Windham during an A-VET Boot Camp class at Aiken Technical College. A-VET is the acronym for Acceleration Veteran Education and Transition, a program designed for veterans who want to further their education, but whose test scores show they aren't quite ready for college-level courses.

Willie Glover has a dream. He wants to open a home for injured military veterans, but he thinks he needs to learn more to be able to operate such a facility effectively.

That's why the Graniteville resident is a student in the new A-VET Boot Camp program at Aiken Technical College. Glover is brushing up on his math and English skills and finding out how to use a computer. Then he plans to study business at Aiken Tech and earn a degree.

“Being a 62-year-old guy coming back to school, it's really hard; things have changed,” said Glover, who was in the Army for more than 20 years and spent time in Bosnia.

A-VET is the acronym for Acceleration Veteran Education and Transition. Its first seven-week Boot Camp started on June 17, and it's designed for post-9/11 military veterans who want to further their education, but whose test scores show they aren't quite ready for college-level courses.

Many, like Glover, haven't been in a classroom setting for a long time and have forgotten a lot of what they learned in the past. Veterans in that situation face a dilemma because many need to use some of their 36 months of G.I. Bill educational benefits to catch up.

As a result, they don't have enough benefits left to finish the work they need to earn a degree.

But A-VET Boot Camp allows veterans to take remedial classes for free, so they don't have to dip into their benefits.

Boot Camp is “very intense,” Glover said.

“They throw a lot at you and you have a short time to learn it, but I'm enjoying it,” he said. “It's very rewarding and very challenging at the same time.”

A $60,000 grant from the Wounded Warrior Project is funding the A-VET Boot Camp program. Four veterans are participating in the first Boot Camp, and another seven-week cycle is scheduled to begin in October.

The inaugural Boot Camp has three instructors and offers classes in English, math and various skills that will help the veterans adjust to college life.

“This is a pilot program, and we're going to be developing it and improving it so that maybe other colleges can do it as well,” said Sharon DuBose, who is the A-VET program coordinator. “The students are giving us feedback on everything as it is going on. We are looking forward to the second cycle beginning in October when we plan to have about 20 veterans involved in the Boot Camp.”

The goal, DuBose said, is for Boot Camp graduates to be able to take their placement tests again and perform well enough “to go to college anywhere they want, be it Aiken Tech, USC Aiken or Georgia Regents University.”

The Augusta/Aiken Warrior Project and USC Aiken are collaborating with Aiken Tech on the A-VET Boot Camp effort.

“We help recruit veterans who are interested and eligible,” said Jeanette Gilles, a veterans advocate with the Augusta/Aiken Warrior Project. “Our other responsibility is to help support them while they're at Aiken Tech, so they can complete the A-VET program. If they have a problem, we see what resources there are in the community that we can refer them to, so they don't have to drop out. Our goal isn't just to get someone into college; our goal is to get them to graduate.”

The A-VET Boot Camp program came about “because we all started putting our heads together to see what we could do,” said Robert Murphy, who is involved with the Augusta/Aiken Warrior Project and also is the program lead for USC Aiken's Veteran Student Success Center.

“We didn't want to have our veterans burning up their benefits taking remedial classes,” Murphy continued. “It's a big problem, and it's something that should concern us as taxpayers who are putting billions of dollars into the G.I. Bill. We need to know that these veterans are getting degrees or certificates and not just hanging out in school for three or four years and then leaving.”

Erica Hanks, a 35-year-old Army veteran from Augusta, is grateful for the opportunity to attend the inaugural A-VET Boot Camp.

“It's been very helpful in getting me back into the mindset for school,” said Hanks, who is interested in the restaurant, catering and lawn care and home beautification businesses. “I want to get a degree, so I can get a better-paying job.”