WILKES-BARRE, PA (July 24, 2014) – Wilkes University has announced two initiatives to support veterans in their return to civilian life and ease their transition to higher education. The University is creating the Inter-Organizational Veteran Educational Support Team (INVEST) and has hired AmeriCorps VISTA worker Emily McGaha to help carry out its work.
McGaha’s position is supported by a grant from Pennsylvania Campus Compact (PACC). Wilkes University is one of just 23 colleges in Pennsylvania receiving a grant to fund an AmeriCorps VISTA position for the upcoming academic year. McGaha, a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, will be a full-time worker in Wilkes University’s Civic Engagement Office, paid by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
“In essence, she really is a volunteer in service to America. She doesn’t get a traditional paycheck. She’s giving of herself and of her time to creative programs here that have a huge impact,” said Megan Boone Valkenburg, coordinator of the Wilkes University Civic Engagement Office. Valkenburg explained that McGaha receives a small living allowance and an education award at the end of her service.
At the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, McGaha worked with veterans on campus through the University’s department of academic affairs. At Wilkes, her work will be part of the INVEST project, a collaborative effort between Wilkes University and community partners designed specifically to mitigate risk factors that hinder veteran persistence in higher education. Community partners will include AMVETS, the VA Hospital, Veterans Center of Scranton and Tri-Vets Community Action Center, among others. INVEST will ensure the university and community veterans achieve at the highest level.
Valkenburg explained that additional support is needed for veterans as they transition to civilian life. “They come to us and they don’t have the support of the military behind them anymore; they’re a solo person. They may have families, they may not. But they need that safety net of a social support system. Part of Emily’s job will be to provide that, to create social programs for veterans and their families,” Valkenburg said.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, about 1.4 million veterans are considered at-risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and poor living conditions. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 49.3% student veterans did not complete their degree. In her position, McGaha's primary goals will be to help provide a support network for veterans and their families, fully inform them of their VA benefits and maximize their education opportunities.
McGaha will gather data for the Wilkes Veterans Services webpages including information about available support services scholarship opportunities, upcoming events in the public and current trends in higher education.
McGaha will also support Wilkes Veterans' Counselor Lt. Col. Mark Kaster and the Wilkes University Veterans Council. The work will include helping to develop social programs that will benefit veterans by providing assistance in recruiting, training and monitoring volunteers. Additionally, she will work on both a large-scale job and career fair and an academic fair that will allow other campuses to reach out to the veterans in the area.
Campus Compact is an organization that offers statewide support for member institutions that sustain an environment, culture and infrastructure for student civic and community engagement and campus/community partnerships. AmeriCorps VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America, is a national service program designed to fight poverty.
Wilkes University has been designated a Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs magazine for four consecutive years, and participates fully in the Veterans Administration education Yellow Ribbon Program.
About Wilkes University
Wilkes University is an independent institution of higher education dedicated to academic and intellectual excellence through mentoring in the liberal arts, sciences and professional programs. Founded in 1933, the university provides its students with the experience, mentoring and education necessary for career and intellectual development as well as personal growth. Named one of the fastest-growing universities in the United States by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wilkes offers the doctor of nursing practice, doctor of education and doctor of pharmacy degrees and more than a dozen master’s degree programs, including the master of business administration and master of fine arts in creative writing. For more information, visit www.wilkes.edu