New veterans' initiative to aid transition to civilian life

By ROB NOVIT | The Aiken (S.C.) Standard | Published: March 21, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. — A business, education and nonprofit collaboration will lead to part-time employment opportunities for student veterans enrolled at USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College campuses.

Both colleges have joined Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and the Aiken-Augusta Warrior Project to create the Veterans to Careers Program – the first of its kind in the nation, representatives of those entities announced.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, or SRNS, has committed to offering temporary positions for qualified student veterans; other employers will be invited to participate.

“This is pretty amazing,” said Kim Elle, the Warrior Project director for both communities. “As a veteran myself, I know the importance and how tough the transition process is. What we are creating will impact veterans not just here, but across the country.”

Elle was joined, on Thursday, in signing a memorandum of understanding – also known as an MOU – by Dr. Susan Winsor, ATC president; Dr. Sandra Jordan, USCA chancellor; and Dwayne Wilson, SRNS president. The event was held at the SRNS headquarters in downtown Aiken.

Both colleges have previously installed student veterans programs in partnership with the Warrior Project. They assist scores of veterans in the areas of support and advocacy initiatives. This project will add new services.

After 23 years in the Marine Corps, Robert Murphy enrolled at USCA in 2012. Today, he's the director of the university's Veteran and Military Student Success Center.

“This is a great opportunity for all the veterans in this room,” Murphy said at the ceremony. “Thank you for reaching across the table and seeing the value-added services that veterans can provide.”

According to a press release, veteran students must have attended one semester at ATC or USCA as a full-time student before applying to the new project. In addition, they must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average. Participating employers will offer a part-time job of 15 to 20 hours a week in the STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and math.

Aiken is already known for its partnerships that bring together educators, businesses and other community initiatives, Winsor said.

When veterans leave the military, “they are going to face a variety of challenges, and employment is one of them,” she said. “There is no better way than building a resume through part-time work. I'm very happy to be here with SRNS as they reach out to our veterans.”

Wilson said his company has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with both campuses.

“You can look at the veterans and see the skill sets and the qualities they can provide,” said Wilson. “Their commitment, tenacity and discipline are all the things that will make us a success, not only at the Site, but as a nation.”

The United States has committed its many resources to transition its sons and daughters into the military, said Jordan – providing them with the disposition to be successful.

But the other side of that service, she said, “is that we have not historically acclimated them about transitioning back to civilian life. This program will help those students at Aiken Technical College and USCA get a better transition.”

Other veterans attending the ceremony were Steven Waller, the ATC president of the Student Veterans Association, and three USCA students – Harry Marshall, Michael Nash and Steven Redd.

South Carolina's unemployment rate for veterans 18 and older dropped to 4.1 percent in March 2013, down from 6.9 percent the same time in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported on Thursday. The Palmetto State posted the nation's sixth best rate.


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