The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Sullivan Foundation partner school Bellarmine University a three-year, $390,000 grant to develop a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success (CEVSS).

The only one of its kind at a private school in the Louisville, Ky. region, the CEVSS will be a model of service and support for veteran students. It will bolster their entire academic journey, from acclimating to university life to progressing successfully through coursework to degree completion.

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“Veterans returning to school often face unique challenges, whether those are financial, physical, psychological, academic or a combination of factors,” Bellarmine President Susan M. Donovan said. “I want to congratulate Bellarmine’s Office of Military and Veteran Services for the hard work they have done to help our veteran students succeed, and to thank the U.S. Department of Education for recognizing and rewarding this work with this grant. The Center of Excellence will enable us to expand our services for veterans and provide them with the excellent university experience they deserve.”

The university’s goals include increasing veteran enrollment, retention and graduation rates by at least 15 percent.

“The Bellarmine community has been very supportive of my desire to obtain a degree, and at times I’ve had to lean heavily on the resources available through the university,” said Meeka McWilliams, a junior sociology major and Army veteran. “The new center will help even more. The planned improvements to our space for military-affiliated students excites me most. That’s where we receive support, study together and even connect with other members of the veteran community.”

Bellarmine’s Office of Military and Veteran Services celebrated its third anniversary Feb. 1. Since 2017, enrollment of Bellarmine veterans has increased from 37 to 61 students. The office used data from Bellarmine’s veteran experiences, along with national research that examines barriers to veterans graduating, to develop the CEVSS and its services.

“Veterans often have specific needs, whether it’s navigating a complex array of federal assistance or adapting to life with disabilities incurred in combat,” said Lindsay Gargotto, director of Bellarmine’s Office of Military and Veteran Student Services and an Air Force veteran. “Our goal is to create a veteran-ready campus culture, where those needs are met and veterans can thrive and work progressively to graduation and their career goals.”

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Specifically, the CEVSS will help incoming veteran students transition to university life with a tailored orientation, introduction-to-college course, learning community and mentor program.

The center will also help the campus become military-ready by offering training for faculty and staff so they can better understand and relate to important veteran topics and issues.

The CEVSS will establish a comprehensive veteran student support team with representatives from departments and offices across the university, such as Disability Services, the Office of Identity and Inclusion, Financial Aid, Counseling Center and Student Success Center.

Lastly, the DOE grant will fund improvements to the campus space for veterans, including laptops and other supplies. The grant also covers a coordinator position that will help oversee these initiatives.

“This is an exciting day for Bellarmine University and, more importantly, our veteran and military students who will benefit greatly from this grant,” said Judge David Stosberg, chair and co-founder of Bellarmine’s Military Veterans Advisory Council. “The council commends Dr. Donovan’s and Bellarmine’s commitment to the veteran and military students.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Bellarmine University website.

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