Alan Parsons had a vision for a student veterans lounge at Arkansas Tech University when he served as president of the ATU Service Members and Veterans of America (SMVA) organization.
Then he acquired the data to support the vision.
Then he found the partners necessary to make the vision a reality.
As a result, ATU celebrated the opening of its new student veterans lounge in Doc Bryan Student Services Center room 104 during Homecoming 2018.
"I can't believe how supportive Arkansas, Pope County, Arkansas Tech and the community of Russellville are," said Parsons, who graduated from ATU in May 2018 and now serves as an academic advisor in the Veterans Upward Bound program located at Arkansas Tech. "I attended two other schools before I came here, and I have never seen a place that was so supportive of veterans. The idea and the survey...everything just came together."
That survey found that 42 percent of student veterans at ATU listed a lounge/gathering place as their top priority for assisting military affiliated students on campus.
Parsons' survey data captured the attention of Dr. Caroline Hackerott, Amy Pennington, Niki Schwartz, Dr. James Stobaugh, Alison Taylor and Dr. Alaric Williams, ATU employees who were seeking an innovation project they could perform as part of the Leadership Tech professional development program.
Focus groups conducted by their Leadership Tech group confirmed the need for a student veterans lounge.
"(Student veterans) wanted a gathering place where they could be around their peers with shared experiences, challenges and obstacles," said Pennington. "We wanted to develop a space that would support our student veterans, and our overall arching goal was to provide a service that might help increase retention and graduation rates for our student veterans. This is a really exciting day for our Leadership Tech team, the Office of Veteran Services and the campus in general. It is our hope that student veterans and our current service members will utilize the new space for their academic success and also enjoy a common gathering place. None of this would be possible without some very generous contributions from donors across the United States. The donors are alumni and also veterans. Many of them gave anonymously. Their only goal was to support these students. We thank the donors for their support and for their service to our country."
The project yielded additional partnerships with the ATU U.S. Army ROTC program, which has installed a display honoring the members of the ATU U.S. Army ROTC Hall of Honor adjacent to the student veterans lounge, and the ATU Division of Advancement, which assisted in the fund-raising effort to remodel the space that would become the lounge and provide furnishings.
Pennington pointed to the work of Marsha Oels and Shelly Hall in the Office of Veteran Services as a key resource for ATU military affiliated students.
"Marsha and Shelly lead our veteran services team, and I think you would be hard pressed to find two individuals who do a better job in veteran services on any other campus," said Pennington. "As I've worked with them on this project, I've learned a little more about the work they do and a lot about their personalities. They care so much for these students and for their success. We hope this lounge will support and enhance the good work they already do."
The ATU Office of Veteran Services has relocated and is now in the same suite as the student veterans lounge on the first floor of the Doc Bryan Student Services Center.
"We've already had such positive feedback," said Oels, who serves as director of the ATU Office of Veteran Services. "I strongly believe that the lounge is going to have a significant impact on the success of our veterans, just by giving them a place to call their own and a place where they can feel comfortable while socializing with other veterans."
Visit www.atu.edu/veterans to learn more about the ATU Office of Veteran Services.
Participants in the ribbon cutting to officially open the new student veterans lounge at Arkansas Tech University were (photographed, from left-to-right): Dr. Caroline Hackerott, Niki Schwartz, Shelly Hall, Amy Pennington, Dr. James Stobaugh, Marsha Oels and Alison Taylor.