On Veterans Day 2015, the College showed both pride and gratitude for its approximately 335 students who are using some form of the GI Bill – whether as family members/dependents of veterans or as one of the 100-plus military veterans currently enrolled at the College.
That appreciation manifested in the opening of the new Veteran and Military Student Services Center, which is tasked with creating individualized road maps for veterans and military students pursuing an education at the College and connecting them with the campus and with community resources and support they need to be successful students.
With the $24,900 grant from the Palmetto Warrior Connection to open the center, the College was able to fund a position for Jessica McMahan, coordinator of the Veteran and Military Student Services Center. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force who served for 12 years as a combat videographer, McMahan knows firsthand the struggles that many veterans face as they transition back to civilian life, and is thus ideally suited to serve as a connection between the military and higher education.
Twice deployed to Iraq to document the war and the selfless service of her comrades, often carrying her rifle in one hand and filming with a video camera in the other, McMahan regularly witnessed the stark realities of combat. She was, at times, forced to put down her camera and take up fighting positions with her rifle when Army infantry units she was filming came under enemy fire. In 2007, she was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for combat leadership.
According to McMahan, she had a difficult time readjusting to life after leaving the military, and she believes those experiences help her relate to and understand the unique needs of student veterans.
“You have to find yourself again,” says McMahan, who first came to the College in 2015 as an office manager for the ROAR Scholars program. “That’s why I wanted this position so much. I get to help other people get through that.”
McMahan says her overarching goal is to make the College’s student veterans feel as much a part of the campus community as any other member.
“Most veterans are nontraditional students, so their needs are different than traditional students’,” she says. “I want to create a community for student veterans on campus so that we have each other for support. All military veterans are my brothers and sisters. There is always that bond.”