Bakersfield College has earned a distinction from the U.S. Department of Education: it was one of 16 colleges to be awarded $450,000 to establish a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success.

This grant will allow the college to provide more staff and resources to veterans, according to Jenny Frank, director of Bakersfield College’s Veterans Services. That includes reaching out to veterans at military installations to encourage them to enroll and then helping them with the entire onboarding process.

Once they're in classes — virtually, for now — the grant will ensure veterans have access to the support they need to succeed, whether that is academic, financial or emotional.

It's not always easy to make the transition from military to civilian life, Frank explains. Some veterans, especially those who have seen combat, might feel out of place in classes with college students fresh out of high school.

"When a veteran transitions out of the military, there’s a sudden feeling like, 'Where’s my place in the world, where do I belong?'" Frank said. "What we aim to do is assist them in the educational journey."

Bakersfield College's commitment to the veteran community goes deep, said Dick Taylor, retired director of Kern County Veteran Services. He points out the very first building on the Panorama Campus was Memorial Stadium, built to honor the fallen heroes of the world wars. He says this grant will help the college expand that commitment.

"It gives veterans and their families another exceptional resource to continue their education," he said.

Currently, BC's Veterans Services has a dedicated student adviser on staff, but  the program will be able to hire another one with this grant. This will give students more one-on-one time to make sure they're on track for their degree or certificate, Frank said. There is also extra tutoring available in core subjects such as writing and math.

The Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success will also make sure incoming students are given extra support from peer mentors, who can regularly check in and serve as advocates.

These services might sound a lot like what is offered to other students. But Frank said the staff and peer mentors are offered specific training and guidance on resources that specifically help veterans.

For example, some veterans might be working on their studies while dealing with injuries or conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. The grant provides professional development funding so that staff will keep on top of innovations to better serve veterans' unique needs. 

Some veterans will look to resources available to all students at BC, but some feel more comfortable with veteran-specific resources in Kern County, Frank said. Veterans Services has close ties with community groups. For example, many students have sought help for housing, food and mental health issues at the Kern County Veterans Collaborative.

This new grant comes just a year after BC opened the $7 million Vernon Valenzuela Veterans Resource Center, thanks to Measure J bond funding.

Frank looks forward to a time when students will be able to return to study, congregate in the coffee bar and work in the computer lab. It will be a refuge for students who have anxiety in the classroom and a space to feel comfortable, she says. It will be a place to celebrate the program's 30-unit coining ceremony, which marks the halfway point for those on their way to an associate's degree.

But in the meantime, she wants veterans to know that they're a priority at Bakersfield College.

"We want veterans to understand that degree attainment is possible and is not as frightening as it seems," Frank said.

Taylor said veterans have a lot to offer the civilian world but college is a great way to transition, whether they are looking to land a certain position or start their own business.

"It’s the frosting on the cake to have the knowledge and schooling to add to their resume and portfolio," he said.

You can learn more about Bakersfield College’s Veterans Services at https://www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/veterans. You can email questions to veterans@bakersfieldcollege.edu. Spring semester begins Jan. 18. To register, visit the online Student Information Desk.