Texas A&M Veteran Resource & Support Center Celebrates Decade Of Service
The Don & Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center at Texas A&M (VRSC) is celebrating another milestone – the 10-year anniversary of its opening.
While Texas A&M has supported student veterans since 1919, it was not until Sept. 1, 2012, that the university established a department dedicated to providing uniquely-tailored programs and resources for student veterans and their families. As 2022 marks the VRSC’s first decade of service, staff and students are reflecting on the growth and impact that has been created.
VRSC Director and Founder Col. Jerry Smith ’82, USMC (Ret.) was working as a professor of naval science when he saw the need for additional resources to help guide military students in their transition from the military to campus.
“As I contemplated my inevitable transition from active-duty military service, I was uncertain that I could find a new career where I could really continue to answer the call of service,” Smith said. “As a member of the university Troops to College Committee between 2008 and 2012, I learned of the unique challenges that veterans face as they transition back to college and find new careers outside of the military. The opportunity to become the Director of the newly established VRSC provided a uniquely rewarding role in where I could reinforce the Aggie commitment to selfless service.”
With the support of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Lt. Gen. Joseph Weber ’72, USMC (Ret.), the Veteran Resource & Support Center was officially designated as a department in the Division of Student Affairs effective Sept. 1, 2012.
The VRSC opened with only two staff members and was housed in part of a 1,900-square-foot space. Within six months, the VRSC began to grow with the addition of a Military Admissions counselor, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) Coordinator, the creation of the Aggie Shields student organization and Textbook Lending Library, and the hiring of an assistant director.
By 2015, the VRSC’s rapid growth began to exceed the maximum space capacity in its Koldus office suite. In addition to the full-time staff that housed in the VRSC, the space also became the primary lounge for student veterans, a population that had grown by nearly 30% in the first three years since the VRSC opened.
As the student veteran population continuously increased, so did the VRSC’s programming and support, thanks to generous donors. In November 2015, the VRSC created its first endowed scholarship. In the six years since, the VRSC has seen substantial growth in every aspect. The student veteran population has doubled since 2012. The VRSC now has 141 endowed scholarships, five program endowments and two endowments for Aggie Shields Textbook Lending Library.
Using their “application to vocation” support model, the VRSC designed twelve strategic programs that offer opportunities for student veterans to engage with each other, experience personal and professional growth, educate themselves on financial literacy, empower themselves through self-reflection and understanding, and ensure their successful transition and holistic success at Texas A&M and beyond.
Additionally, the VRSC provides direct support to two military-affiliated student organizations, and indirect support to numerous other campus and community military-affiliated entities. This comprehensive support is the collaborative work of over 40 team members who are housed in the VRSC’s new 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility, including 14 full-time staff (five VRSC staff and nine others representing eight campus & community entities), four GAs and 26 VA work study students.
In the first 10 years, the VRSC’s growth has made Texas A&M unique in student veteran support amongst its peers, transforming it into the destination of choice for student veteran success. This success was only possible through artful leveraging of current resources to create unmatched foundation and opportunity, and through the generosity of donors embodying the Aggie Spirit.
“Witnessing the VRSC’s growth has been an incredible experience. Students, student orgs, faculty, staff, and donors have all had an integral role in our successes,” said VRSC Assistant Director Sgt. Maj. Don Freeman, USA (Ret.). “No other university can say they have experienced the same level of support our office and our student veterans have experienced over the past 10 years. And it feels like we’re just getting started.”
The VRSC plans to continue improving ROI and expanding its network of campus, community and corporate partners. The goal is to sustain and improve innovative programming, supporting their foundational goal of fostering student veteran success and maximizing student veteran leadership potential for future leadership in our state, nation and world.