A transition made easier: CCTC program helps vets move to civilian life

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 5/18/18

It's a bittersweet time for Central Carolina Technical College students Margaret Nelson and Rachael Wallace.

Both have had success in the classroom at the college in pursuit of health care …

This item is available in full to subscribers

A transition made easier: CCTC program helps vets move to civilian life

Posted

It's a bittersweet time for Central Carolina Technical College students Margaret Nelson and Rachael Wallace.

Both have had success in the classroom at the college in pursuit of health care careers, both are former active-duty military, both are single moms, and both are about to leave the college for their next steps in life.

Nelson, 39, of Manning, is set to graduate this summer from CCTC with an associate in arts in surgical technology after starting at the college in 2015. She said she plans to pursue her bachelor's degree online with Saint Leo University while working in her field at Carolinas Hospital System in Florence.

Wallace, 29, has only been at CCTC since January and recently completed her first full semester there with a 4.0 GPA. She will be taking a few more classes online this summer before heading to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Weber State University in the fall to pursue a degree in nursing.

When they sat down together this week, both Nelson and Wallace said what they'll miss the most about CCTC is the camaraderie among military veterans at the school.

Both worked while in school as work-study students in the college's Veteran Resource Center on the main Sumter campus, 506 N. Guignard Drive.

"We have a family environment among the veterans here at the college, and you get drawn into that," Nelson said. "I'll miss the camaraderie."

Nelson, who was previously in the Army for nine and a half years, said since she started at CCTC in 2015, the college's services and assistance offered to veterans has grown substantially.

A lot of that growth is associated with a new $1.3 million federal Upward Bound grant the school received last fall to assist veterans in getting ready for college, keep them in college and help them reach their goals. Up to 125 veterans can be served a year in the five-year grant program.

Wallace started at CCTC at the beginning of this year after nine years in the Air Force — her last stop being Shaw Air Force Base.

"It's a big transition from active-duty military to civilian life," Wallace said. "You are going from a very structured environment to something new and different."

Wallace said she would recommend the college to any former military personnel in the area.

"I received coaching and support along the way," Wallace said. "The help here was great."

Nelson noted that tutoring services were especially helpful last semester "because me and math are not friends."

It was intermediate algebra, but she made an 'A' on the final exam, she said.

Both said engaging with older veterans and "hearing their war stories" was fun, as well as giving guidance to the younger veterans.

In summarizing her five months at CCTC, Wallace said she's sad to leave.

"It was that environment," Wallace said, "where everybody helps each other and pushes you to continue on."

More on the grant program

Central Carolina Technical College is one of two colleges in the state to have the Veterans Upward Bound grant program. The other is Trident Technical College in Charleston, according to program counselor Wes Pelletier.

He said the goal of the program is to see veterans succeed from any branch of the military.

An Air Force veteran who served 28 years, Pelletier said the military does a good job at preparing someone for a job in the military but isn't as well-equipped to help somebody transition out.

"When you're starting over, it's good to find a friend to help," Pelletier said. "We're here to build trust with veterans."

To qualify for the program, a veteran must be a resident of the college's four-county region (Sumter, Clarendon, Lee or Kershaw) and must meet one of the following criteria: be out of high school or college for more than five years; have a disability; be below a certain income threshold; or be a first-generation college student.

For more information, Pelletier said to contact him at the college at (803) 774-3378.