Shasta College opens two firefighter training towers for fire academy students
Jessica Skropanic, Record Searchlight
When Millie Israel, a Shasta College student who’s also an Army veteran, needs a place to study or to kick back, she heads to the school’s Veterans Support Center.
Right now, that’s a 200-square-foot space on the second floor of the Student Union above the cafeteria. You’ll find four computers, one printer and a small round table. A cramped second room contains a little fridge and a couple of upholstered chairs.
The space that opened in 2016 might not look like much. But for Israel and other student-veterans, it provides a unparalleled lifeline, one where they don’t have to worry about feeling out of place.
It’s where they “congregate together and we could talk about (our) stories. It’s the one place on campus where it’s OK to not be OK. You can have whatever issues you’re dealing with and have it in a safe spot,” said Israel, a former military police officer who served in Bosnia and Kosovo. She completed her service in 2003.
“We go up there and we have potlucks, we laugh,” she said. Israel, who entered college in 2015, will graduate in May.
Starting next year, student-veterans will be able to use a brand-new and much bigger center. Groundbreaking for the new facility, the $2.8 million Veterans Support and Success Center, took place earlier this week.
Army veteran and Shasta College student Millie Israel calls the small veterans center on campus a “safe spot.” Officials broke ground this week on a bigger, free-standing center for student-veterans. (Photo: Photo credit/Michele Chandler)
The new 3,200-square-foot center is designed to consolidate the current hodge-podge of locations around the campus where student-veterans must go for services, including academic counseling, accessing VA education benefits and tracking financial aid. It’s scheduled to open in 2020.
The new center will bring together offices for academic counselors and other staff who specialize in meeting the varied needs of student-veterans, who tend to be older than the typical undergrad. The new center will also contain study rooms, tutoring services and a student lounge featuring computers and printers.
Just under 200 people enrolled at the college now have self-identified as military veterans, said Julie Fisher, student services specialist with Shasta College Veterans Services. Another 75 military spouses and children are also eligible to receive education benefits, she said. The campus enrolls about 8,000 students.
While there are other computer labs on the campus, Fisher said, “veterans are a unique population” who can benefit from a dedicated facility.
“In the military, you know what you’re going to do, you know what your mission is, where you’re supposed to be and what your job is,” she said. “Here, you kind of have to seek out services sometimes and ask the right questions. Along the way, there can be barriers or struggles that they may come across. So, having a dedicated space to get everything done is helpful for that process.”
Shasta College officials said the majority of the new building’s total cost will be covered by funding from Measure H, the Shasta College Job Training/Veteran Support Measure. Voters in the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Joint Community College District approved the measure in 2016.
MEASURE H RELATED: Flaming, rappelling towers teach students real-world firefighting
Its passage provides a $139 million bond to be used for improving college classrooms and facilities in support of education and job training opportunities for veterans, students and residents of the community.
Another $49,000 came from California Veterans support funding, which Shasta College spokesman Peter Griggs said will pay for some equipment, with anything leftover being allocated to construction costs.
“The current veterans center we have, being that it’s one room, is rather limiting in what we are able to offer to our veterans who are students here,” Griggs said. “So, this center is the ability for us to better serve our veterans and bring all those resources that they would need into a one-stop solution for them.”
Shasta College’s new center for student-veterans will offer services and space to study and hang out. It’s projected to open next year. (Photo: Photo credit/Shasta College)
In addition to centralizing current offerings, the new center could add as-yet undetermined new programs and services.
Exactly which additional services make sense will be determined in part from the results of a recent statewide study that tallied information from Veterans Resource Centers operating at all 114 California community colleges. One needed change mentioned in the study was bringing mental health services to campus for veterans to utilize. Extending the operating hours of typical centers for student-veterans was also proposed.
The 18-member Veteran Education Committee team, which includes a mix of Shasta College staff, students and local community members, will also weigh in about possible program additions. Ten of those committee’s members are veterans.
“A lot of campuses already have a dedicated space, a one-stop shop model. So we are hoping we can get there too, once this building is complete,” said Fisher.
About 89,000 veterans, active duty service members and their dependents were enrolled at a California community college in 2015-16, the community college system said. And more than half of California veterans receiving educational benefits under the GI Bill attend a community college, according to their information.
Simpson University in Redding used private donations to establish its Veterans Success Center in 2016. In addition to academic counseling and assistance with financial aid, the center has offered resume writing workshops and field trips to four-year universities.
The quiet center that’s filled with flags and military-themed posters and other decor is where you’ll often find Samantha Gutierrez, a former Marine sergeant who left active duty in December and became a freshman nursing major in January.
Following four years in the Marines right out of high school, she said she decided to expand her career and go to college when her tour of duty ended. Now, she’s one of about 50 student-veterans at Simpson, which has an enrollment of 800.
Being older than many other freshmen took some getting used to, Gutierrez said.
“Eighteen and 19-year-olds; I was in charge of them all throughout the military. It was more so the transition from me seeing them as my subordinates to seeing them as my peers. I said, ‘OK, I have to talk to them like this,’ rather than how I usually would talk to them.” In the beginning, she said, “That was a bit of a challenge.”
While working part-time two days a week at the center, Gutierrez still comes to use its services nearly every day, amid the American flags, military-themed posters, video games, lending library, computers, printers, table space and comfy seating.
“I come here to study, mainly because I know if I go to my room, I’ll get distracted,” she said. “This is like a really quiet place to study and I do a lot of work here. I also just come here to just relax.”
Having a center on campus for veterans “is important because when a veteran is getting out of the military, they do face a hard transition,” said Chris Peterson, assistant director of the Veterans Success Center at Simpson and an Army 1st Lt. chaplain.
“First, they transition from the military to civilian life and then they’re transitioning back to school,” he said of the typical student-veteran’s experience. “It is scary, to say the least.”
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Michele Chandler covers city government and housing issues for the Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. Follow her on Twitter at @MChandler_RS, call her at 530-225-8344 or email her at [email protected]. Please support our entire newsroom’s commitment to public service journalism by subscribing today.
These manikins, known as electronic medical simulators, are tech-equipped devices used to train nurses and other medical personnel at Shasta College.
Mike Chapman, Wochit
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