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WKU's Veterans Upward Bound program turns 25

Daily News - 8/20/2017

When U.S. Army veteran Philip Parsons completed his service in 2010, he had no high school diploma and couldn't see a way to a better future.

That changed the day he saw a card for Western Kentucky University's Veterans Upward Bound program while visiting an unemployment center.

Now, after graduating in May with his master's degree in social work, Parsons is a licensed clinical social worker. He was one of many program supporters attending a dinner Friday to celebrate the program's 25th anniversary.

"There's just a lot of stuff I didn't have or I didn't understand," Parsons said, describing his modest background. "VUB helped me get some of these tools so I could be successful."

It wasn't easy, but with guidance from program staff, Parsons was able to get an associate degree in health and human services at Hopkinsville Community College. From there, he transferred to WKU to study social work at the Mahurin Honors College, where his thesis was nominated for thesis of the year. He's looking for work and working on a blog about his passion for running at unbridledrunning.com.

For Davy Stone, the program's director, Parsons' story is one among many stretching back through the program's 25 years of service. Stone said the program helps all veterans not in school by guiding them through the often-bureaucratic process of getting an education. The program is also completely free to participants.

"We help them cut through the red tape," he said.

Stone said he's proud that VUB isn't the only show in town at WKU anymore. Now WKU has a Military Student Services Office to help assist further. The campus has become more friendly to veterans overall, he said.

Going back to school can be tough for any adult, but for veterans it's different. Many program participants worry about being in a classroom of 18-year-olds, Stone said.

"We help them see that that is not going to be an issue," he said, adding that often they become professors' favorite students. "Our success stories are now in positions throughout the community."

Beth England, an adult education specialist with the program, said it helps keep alive the camaraderie military students were used to while serving.

"That's something I admire about it is just how much they help each other," she said.

During the event, awards were presented and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton presented a proclamation from Gov. Matt Bevin honoring the program.

Gary Gray, who secured the grant that helped get the program off the ground, also spoke. He shared an allegory about a teacher who removed desks from her classroom, much to her students' confusion. At the end of the day, after the students repeatedly failed to guess why, the teacher called in a group of veterans to replace the desks. For Gray, it was a lesson about appreciation and respect.

"They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education," Gray said, quoting the teacher. "Don't ever forget that."

 
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