Easing the transition to college life

Over 400 veterans attend North Lake College—tapping into a wide variety of services available through the college’s Office of Veterans Affairs. These student veterans enjoy assistance with degree and career planning, class registration and VA benefit certifications. NLC Veterans Affairs even offers referrals for additional campus and community resources. This five-star treatment supports student veterans by easing their transition from military service to college life. North Lake College Veterans Affairs also supports the families of veterans.

Determined to Succeed

After graduating high school early, Roland Ingle joined the U.S. Marines at age 18. After training at Camp Fuji in Japan, Ingle was soon deployed to Afghanistan. Overseas he served as a tool clerk, NCO for heavy line, and combat fitness instructor, to name a few. His main service, however, was transporting troops, perishable goods and equipment across Afghanistan. Often the heat was unbearable with temperatures reaching up to 170˚ in his non-air-conditioned truck. Nevertheless, Ingle welcomed the challenges, even a 5-day trip that involved no sleep and little food. “You have to have that determination,” Ingle explains, “that mentality inside of you to get the job done, no matter how difficult.”

Now back in Texas, this resolute veteran is transitioning to life as a college student at North Lake College to determine which direction his future will take.

“I’m 23 and I already have arthritis,” Ingle says. “I’m ready to start my future. Get an education. Focus on my family. North Lake makes sense.”

Since January 2012, the Irving resident has been taking three courses per semester as he works toward a degree. “It feels like I can make [North Lake] my home,” he smiles. “Everyone has open arms and is so welcoming. They are definitely military friendly. Most of the VA specialists are vets themselves. I can talk to them normally. They understand what I went through.”

A veteran-friendly environment

North Lake College (NLC) offers a strong sense of family and community for student veterans—a community which GI Jobs has officially certified as “Military Friendly.”

Applying with over 10,000 colleges nationwide, NLC earned their elite status from GI Jobs after being classified in the top 15 percent. The “Military Friendly” application examines a college’s veteran services, as well as the flexibility of their class offerings and social media. North Lake scores equally high in all three categories.

From Facebook groups solely devoted to the student veterans, to flexible terms and distance-learning opportunities, NLC’s veteran services are diverse. In fact, North Lake is one of the few colleges to recently combine veterans affairs, counseling and disability services.

So what exactly is Military Friendly? “For us it’s being able to provide a full spectrum of services that meet the individual veteran’s educational needs,” explains Amy Zorka, Veterans Affairs Senior Rehabilitation Specialist/Advisor. For North Lake College, a full spectrum of educational services includes acting as a referral source for additional veteran services. “Many student veterans are unaware of the countless offerings available to them,” says Zorka, listing benefits such as five years of health care services and specialized “Vet Reps” at the Texas Workforce Commission.

In addition to offering a long list of specialized services, the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established strong internal relationships with other departments to support its veterans.

For example, the VA office refers student veterans to Academic Advising Workshops where they learn basic skills on time management, test-taking strategies, and stress management techniques. Also, in collaboration with the college’s counseling services, the VA office ensures student veterans receive assistance with overcoming physical and learning disabilities, communication issues, and psychological or medical challenges such as post traumatic stress syndrome.

“Student veterans find guidance, patience and support here,” Zorka says. “They also become part of something bigger. Our Student Veterans Association makes this office more than a place to receive support and services. It is a place that has brought similar-minded men and women together to support each other.”

Working as a team

The Student Veterans Association (SVA) at North Lake College is for, by and about student veterans. A budding student club, SVA consists of men and women of all ages—each passionate about teamwork. In fact, members compete together in the Tough Mudder endurance race to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project.

“This event is all about conquering obstacles, not as an individual but as a team,” notes Veterans Affairs Service Coordinator Corinthia Acevedo. “We are trying to engrain this in our students as well. Sometimes that obstacle is coming back from the war and trying to go to college. At North Lake no student has to tackle that obstacle alone.”

A veteran of three wars, Acevedo encourages student veterans to participate in group activities on and off campus. “Group events foster new relationships, create healthy competition and encourage collaborative problem solving. They also motivate students to set an objective and achieve it.”

Navigating new waters

The Office of Veterans Affairs is more than a place for student veterans to relax, study, or find someone to talk to. While the office truly represents a “touch of home” for student veterans at NLC, it also helps them navigate through curriculum requirements and government financial aid.

“They’ve helped me out a lot,” student veteran Roland Ingle shares. “When I first came to the VA office I didn’t know what benefits I needed to use. I was thinking I had to use Hazelwood or the Montgomery GI Bill. But really it was the Post-9/11 [GI Bill] that I needed.”

North Lake College Veterans Affairs Coordinator Billy Yost, an Air Force veteran, says the office staff act as advisors, counselors, mentors and friends. “[But] our main goal is getting student veterans their entitlement,” Yost explains. “It’s not just a paycheck. The whole reason behind the GI Bill is to get an education.”

Under the GI Bill, student veterans must take at least one physical (on campus) class to receive their full monthly housing allowance. A rule which many veterans say helps them reacclimate to their surroundings.

“Being out of high school for six years and walking into a college felt weird at first,” says 23-year-old Ingle, who mentally feels in his forties. “But I’m one of those people that always wants to try difficult challenges. I was always determined to tackle the odds. I like to prove people wrong.”

Ingle says college has helped keep his mind going so he is not bored. He needed a new challenge, and what he found was North Lake College, which has helped him a great deal in forming new relationships. He is heavily involved with the Student Veterans Association on campus.

“I’m running Tough Mudder in October with North Lake,” Ingle says with a big grin on his face. “Our entire team is pumped.”

Office of Veteran Affairs Student Services

  • Tailored admissions and advising counseling
  • Career services counseling
  • Transfer assistance
  • Veteran benefits and financial aid advising
  • Grant and scholarship details
  • Assistance for students with disabilities
  • An orientation course geared toward veterans
  • Referrals to on-campus and off-campus service providers
  • Textbook loan program
  • Emergency, scholarship and additional funds
  • Study groups
  • Mentoring program
  • Tutoring
  • Group Service Projects
  • Student Veterans Association
  • Work Study