Suzanne Buchholz, Reporter
Pierce College was named a 2016 Military Friendly College by Victory Media in December 2015.
The national designation of Military Friendly College is awarded to colleges with high standards in military services that provide resources for veterans, members of the Armed Forces and military
families. These standards are determined with a survey encompassing areas such as student support, outcomes in terms of graduation and employment rates as well as programs made available to these students.
Through this survey, Pierce College is recognized as the best community college in Washington state and ranked No. 13 nationwide.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Pierce College Puyallup President Marty Cavalluzzi said. “It’s nice acknowledgment for all the work that we do.”
Currently Pierce College serves more active duty and veteran students than any other college or university in Washington state, and has been offering services to aid these students for years, Cavalluzzi said.
“Pierce College has been serving our military community for over 45 years, so at this point ‘military friendly’ is part of our DNA,” Executive Director of Pierce College at Joint-Base Lewis McChord Mark Haskins said.
Pierce College at JBLM offers a variety of online classes that military students can take anywhere in the world. Students who are living locally are able to attend classes at the JBLM, Fort Steilacoom and Puyallup campus. Pierce College also strives to help military students adjust to college life through special transition and advising programs that are meant to make the jump from military life to college as smooth as possible, Cavalluzzi said.
“It can be kind of scary and awkward because you’re doing one thing for years and all of a sudden it’s like you totally shift gears,” Cavalluzzi said. “You’re going to do something else and head to another future, a new career. We offer a lot of individual help with students.”
Part of the transition process is having new military students who are about to leave active duty visit the campus to get acquainted with the surroundings as well as the employees. Once a month, buses arrive to JBLM with new students so that they have an opportunity to take a tour of the campus and discuss their various schooling and career options with advisers. There’s also usually a panel of employees who will talk with the students about what it’s like to transition from the military to college life.
There are several employees at the Puyallup campus who are veterans and are part of the panel. Among them are Director of Student Life Sean Cooke and Access and Disabilities Services Manager
“All the support services at JBLM are just phenomenal,” Cavalluzzi said. “The people who work there, they get it. They understand the language, they understand what people are going through and they’re able to just have a frank conversation about what the options are and get people on the right pathway.”
Pierce College will continue to serve military students and improve on these services wherever possible. Haskins said that Pierce is currently working on expanding their Achieving the Dream initiatives and providing one-on-one tutoring sessions at the JBLM campus. He also said that an initiative called Veterans Industry Education was signed into effect at JBLM in the fall, which connects service members to career credentials during their final months of service so they can be ready for in-demand jobs more quickly.
“Pierce is part of a network of community and technical colleges in Washington charting the difficult course of prior learning assessment for service members, to allow them to get more credit for their military training and education,” Haskins said.
Cavalluzzi said that they hope to open a veterans center for the Puyallup campus, which would give veterans a place to get support and spend time with other veterans.
“We’re very happy but at the same time we also realize there’s still more work we could do, so it didn’t stop anything,” Cavalluzzi said. “We’re always looking at ourselves and just assessing where we are and what we can do better and just keep going.”
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