Veterans Upward Bound

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Veterans Upward Bound

By Tim Farley

Mike Carter spent 13 ½ years in the U.S. military and was deployed numerous times to different parts of the world before deciding what he wanted out of life.

Carter had worked as an auto technician at an Ada dealership but the military took him down different paths. He spent 7 ½ years in the Marines as a field radio operator and later switched to the Army National Guard where he served as a Calvary scout and was part of an infantry unit.

Finally, after his last deployment to the Middle East, Carter decided it was time to finish his college education, but it wasn’t going as planned. The amount of paperwork and forms to fill out coupled with the headaches of getting financial aid seemed almost insurmountable.

“There were so many hoops to jump through,” he remembered.

Yet, as luck would have it, he walked into the Veterans Upward Bound office at East Central University and good fortune came his way. Within four hours, he was ready to enroll and start classes the next week.

“Veterans Upward Bound has, by far, been the most beneficial program in facilitating my continuing education,” Carter said. “I was facing not knowing what to fill out or when to fill it out. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out everything myself.”

But when Veterans Upward Bound Director Mary Meeks and her staff got involved, Carter experienced smooth sailing.

“They found me an advisor and streamlined everything,” he said.

Now, Carter is ready to graduate in December with a business management degree and a plan to open his own brake-tire-lube shop in rural Asher.

Those types of success stories are normal for Meeks and her staff, which operates out of Ada and Shawnee. A separate Veterans Upward Bound program is located on the campus of Redlands Community College in El Reno.
Program employees help veterans with career options, college admission, financial aid and an evaluation of their academic skills.

“We look at what school they’re interested in and what they’re pursuing and compare the options they have,” said Meeks, who has overseen the program the last 15 years. “We help with the admission process, getting transcripts and we can pay the admission fee or other fees if necessary. We also help look at the cost of college and if they have VA benefits or not.”

In many cases, service members’ VA benefits have expired so Meeks and her staff search for other options, including scholarships and possible funding from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

“We also help them brush up on their academic skills and get them prepared for the classroom,” Meeks said. “There is online instruction and one-on-one tutoring is available. We stay connected to the veterans who come through here. We do a lot of advocating on behalf of the veterans.”

In some cases, veterans may need childcare, housing, transportation or a job while they’re in school. In each case, Veterans Upward Bound assists in delivering those services or guiding the vets to the right program.
“We have people who have done well and have everything in place,” Meeks said. “And then, we have others who are getting out of the military and need other training to get employment in the civilian world.”

In some cases, she said, veterans find vocational-technical training is a better fit for them than a college’s academic setting. In one instance, a veteran who had worked as a welder could no longer do that type of work because of the heat.

“He needed an indoor job and he wanted to be a machinist,” Meeks recalled. “We looked at another school and he decided he wanted to be a power plant technician. The one question we ask everyone is ‘what do you want to be doing that you can enjoy that will make yourself more marketable?’”

Based on current funding levels, the Veterans Upward Bound program based at East Central serves 125 vets a year.

Success stories

Patrick Hicks and Kim Williams are two other examples of success for the Upward Bound program. Hicks suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was incapable of working through the admission and financial aid requirements.

Hicks spent 25 years in the military and now works at East Central University helping other vets obtain the proper certification for their VA benefits.

“For me, I couldn’t have gone back to school without their help,” he said. “They give you support the whole way.”

Meanwhile, Williams spent 16 years as a military police officer until she was medically retired.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she recalled. “I was 34 and going back to college.”

Thanks in large part to the Veterans Upward Bound program, Williams earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at ECU, and later received a master’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma. She is now employed as a social worker at St. Anthony’s in Shawnee.

“I am very happy where I’m at and so thankful to Veterans Upward Bound,” she said. “I might have started back to school, but probably wouldn’t have finished without them.”

For more information, visit www.ecok.edu/trio/vub. The telephone number for Veterans Upward Bound is 580-559-5541.

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