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Veterans enter workforce with help from Wisconsin's technical colleges

A new organization, the Veteran’s Association, was recently formed on the WITC-Rice Lake campus. Pictured at the campus Veterans Day Observance on Nov. 8, are the newly elected officers, from left: president Casey Stoeberl, a Marine; secretary-treasurer Robin Snider-Wiederhold, a Marine; and vice-president Shawn Seever, a Navy veteran.

(11/9/12): After nearly five years in the Army and three tours in Iraq, Brent Rapos found educational and career success at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. Rapos chose accounting because he always liked numbers.

“It had been a number of years since I had been in school and when I started taking classes, I wasn’t sure I could switch careers,” Rapos said. He enrolled in online classes through WITC so he could continue to work and support his family.

Slowly, his comfort level with the college grew and so did his confidence. Rapos completed his associate degree and is working toward an online bachelor’s degree. He also started a tax return preparation business. That confidence was the key.

The former sergeant credits Cheryl Pich, financial aid advisor at the WITC Rice Lake campus, with helping him access the Wisconsin GI Bill benefits available to him.

“She is so helpful with what benefits are best for you and all the different paperwork required. Cheryl was very proactive, getting the information needed before the deadlines,” he said. “I also felt she really appreciated my service.”

Veterans who faced challenges during their service return to Wisconsin with leadership skills that can be a great match for the education and training available through the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS).  By accessing the WTCS, veterans contribute to their college community, which only enhances their value to Wisconsin business and industry.

According to the American Council on Education (ACE), more than 2 million soldiers are transitioning to civilian life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The number of students using their Wisconsin GI Bill benefits in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) has increased dramatically since these new state education benefits became available during the 2005-06 school year, when about 1,000 eligible veterans or the eligible spouses or dependents first used the program.  During the 2011-12 academic year, almost 4,500 Wisconsin veterans or spouses or dependents used the Wisconsin GI Bill in the WTCS.

“We help vets in any way we can,” says Terry Klein, the director of financial aid for WITC. “We will answer any questions via phone, e-mail, or in person and we try to meet with each veteran in person to explain the process and gather the information we need to process their benefits,” Klein says. “We keep up to date on any changes to educational benefits so that we can pass this information on to our veteran students. We also work to resolve any problems that might come up in regards to their benefits.”

Once enrolled in classes at WITC, the college has another form of assistance for veterans. Organizations for veterans exist or are quickly being added at WITC’s four main campuses to help provide useful information and resources to veterans throughout the school year.

One such group at WITC’s Rice Lake campus offers support to veterans for academic success. It also provides a place and time for veterans to gather, network, and support one another, and helps to identify unmet needs unique to veterans.

“WITC works hard to identify the needs of veterans and how to best help veterans and their families succeed,” said WITC President Bob Meyer.  “Veterans bring a wealth of experience and add tremendously to our college communities and we are honored to help them succeed.”