By Charles Cartagena
After fighting their country’s battles on the land and sea, three members of the armed forces have traded in their uniforms for Rider sweatshirts, thanks to a new program.
Rider has a long history of supporting men and women in the armed forces, dating back to the end of the Civil War when the Trenton Business College educated vets in a rapidly changing economy. Keeping in line with that tradition of welcoming back soldiers to civilian life, the university has decided to adopt the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program.
This program, organized by the Department of Veteran Affairs, sets out to ease the transition of soldiers reentering society as private citizens by providing financial assistance in their pursuit of education. Rider has agreed to provide assistance of $8,985 per year across all academic programs, both undergraduate and graduate. Veterans Affairs agrees to make up the difference, so ultimately the student gets free tuition.
Assistant dean of the College of Continuing Studies (CCS) Karen Crowell handles the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“The schools that engage in the Yellow Ribbon Program are saying, ‘We, as an institution, agree that returning vets who served our country and have given up portions of their lives to do so under extreme circumstances and situations should be appreciated,’” she said. “We want to say thank you, and we respect you.”
Rider students Cliff Kitto, a sophomore, and Cory Westcott, a freshman, are two of Rider’s three current beneficiaries of this newly adopted program.
Sgt. Kitto is from Princeton, N.J., and served six years of active duty with the United States Marines, starting his service shortly after completing high school in 2000. During Kitto’s time in the Marine Corps, he served in Iraq in 2003, as an Embassy Guard in the Marine Security Guard Program and completed a second tour of duty in Baghdad, as well as spending time in Saudi Arabia. The long-serving veteran has found a home at Rider.
“When I got out of the Marine Corps, I was looking at many different schools, and I couldn’t find one that fit until my brother, who was a former student, literally dragged me over to Rider, and things just fell into place,” Kitto said.
He believes Rider makes a strong statement by supporting the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“It says a lot, because not many [schools] do it,” Kitto said. “When you first get out of the military, a lot of people turn toward education, but often the financial means aren’t there.”
Aside from financial support, Kitto said that Rider’s treatment of vets in general is a great asset.
“This is one of the most veteran-friendly schools I have ever been to,” he said. “Coming off active duty, there are usually large time discrepancies since you’ve been in school. The professors at Rider understand this and are always willing to work with you.”
Navy veteran Westcott joined active duty in 2004 shortly after completing high school. The Pennsylvania native did a four-year tour with the United States Naval service based out of Seattle and saw two six-month tours in Japan, with additional stays in various countries such as Qatar, Guam, Italy, Germany and the Philippines. After his time in the Navy, Westcott was honorably discharged, having achieved the rank of E-4, Third Class Petty Officer.
Westcott used his time in the armed forces to mature and develop.
“I am here now because I have achieved academic readiness, but at the time [completing high school], another four years of school wouldn’t have been the best choice for me,” he said. “The armed services taught me how to apply myself and helped me work on my personal and professional development.”
Upon re-entering civilian life, Westcott narrowed his extensive research of degree programs to Rowan, Stockton and Rider.
“I just felt Rider was the best fit for me as a finance major,” he said. “The Rider community offered the most opportunities and benefits, and the reputation of the university impacted my decision.”
Westcott is grateful for the opportunity to succeed at Rider and praised the university’s involvement in the program.
“Rider has a great Veterans Affairs outreach program, and a great resource has been Assistant Dean Karen Crowell, who I have worked with from the very beginning stages of my application process, through my initial campus tour,” Westcott said. “She explained to me exactly what opportunities were offered here. The Yellow Ribbon Program is a big part of this opportunity and shows Rider’s respect for veterans.”
Rider recognizes that returning soldiers like Kitto and Westcott can face a multitude of problems, including physical and emotional hardships. The university aims to help with the economic hardships. Rider currently can support up to 100 Yellow Ribbon students, but Crowell explained that the number can change.
Those who qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program must have amassed a period of active duty after Sept. 10, 2001, of at least 36 months or must be honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and have served, at minimum, 30 continuous days after Sept. 10, 2001. The Yellow Ribbon Program is a provision of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. The program, which is still in its infancy, has had much support from institutions of higher learning, with Rider as one of the voluntary supporters.
In addition to benefitting interested students, soldiers serving at least six years in the armed forces and fulfilling the above criteria, who then agree to serve four more years, can pass the benefits onto a family member.
If you or someone you know is a veteran meeting the requirements and would like to learn more, visit the Veterans Association info page at http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_info/ch33/yellow_ribbon.htm or the Yellow Ribbon info page at http://www.rider.edu/172_16935.htm.