College Providing Career Education Benefits To Veterans

 

BLUE BELL PA – At age 23, Montgomery County Community College student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alan Poindexter of Philadelphia is re-adjusting to civilian life after sustaining a brain injury during a 2009 tour of duty in Afghanistan. Part of his rehabilitation is active involvement in campus life at the increasingly busy Blue Bell college campus.

A three-year U.S. Marine Corps infantryman, Poindexter suffered brain damage when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, four months after his deployment.

“It’s a hard adjustment to make every day. The pace is so different. I just try to keep myself as busy as possible,” he said. He’s keeping himself busy by taking classes and working full-time, in addition to serving as vice president of MCCC’s African-American Student League.

Encouraged by his father, who returned to school himself after retiring from the U.S. Navy, Poindexter began taking classes at the college last January. He recently changed his major from liberal studies to emergency management planning. After graduating, he looks to transfer to a four-year institution and secure a job as a fire fighter, U.S. marshall or with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While his father’s encouragement got him through the door, Poindexter said it’s the work of MCCC’s Veterans Affairs team at the Student Success Center in Blue Bell that kept him there.

During 2008, the college established a veterans affairs office and hired a dedicated veterans academic adviser, George Pannebaker. A veteran himself, Pannebaker also has more than 25 years of experience working for the federal Veterans Administration.

“If Mr. Pannebaker wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be in school,” said Poindexter, adding that the paperwork itself is an overwhelming task. “He’s willing to drop everything to help.”

Poindexter is one of 378 student veterans enrolled at MCCC this fall, an increase of 52 percent since Fall 2008. One reason: tuition benefits available in recent years have expanded under the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008, also known as Post-9/11 GI Bill. Another may be the college’s commitment to providing support services to student veterans.

“The Veterans Affairs Office at MCCC is the best around,” said Paul Dooley of Ambler, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a general studies major. “No other college in the area has the knowledge and skill of these individuals.”

In addition to Pannebaker, key MCCC veterans affairs personnel include Coordinator of Accelerated and Off Campus Programs Mary Beth Bryers and Associate Professor of Psychology and Student Veterans Organization adviser Dr. Ann Marie Donohue. They work closely with representatives from the Student Success Center, Financial Aid and Disability Services, among other areas, to ensure that student veterans have access to the resources.

Because of this support, MCCC has been nationally ranked for three consecutive years in the top 20 percent of all higher education institutions in the country by G.I. Jobs magazine.

“My very first semester of college education was a breeze thanks to George (Pannebaker),” said criminal justice major Daniel Gonzalez of Harleysville, who spent four years of active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps as crew chief of an amphibious assault vehicle. “He helped me pick courses and guided me through everything that I needed to know about college.”

A graduate of the Montgomery County Police Academy, Gonzalez plans to work for the Pennsylvania State Police, and he continues to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves.

For more information about veterans affairs at the college, call Pannebaker at 215-619-7307 in Blue Bell or Michael Ondo at the MCCC Pottstown PA campus, 610-718-1857.