SOU hopes to create scholarship fund for veterans

Veterans studying at Southern Oregon University could be loan-free as early as next fall if fundraising efforts for a new scholarship go as planned.

Officials hope to raise $1 million for the endowed Veteran's Success Fund by next spring when financial aid packages are awarded. SOU will solicit donations from area businesses and ask civic organizations to hold fundraisers in order to create the fund that would produce $50,000 to $75,000 annually to replace loans for its 85 student veterans.

"We think the community members are going to be interested in giving to SOU if they know it's going to support veterans," said Pam Ogren, SOU's commuter resource center coordinator who is leading the effort. "We could help alleviate the burden on people who have already served and sacrificed."

Ogren served as an army medic from 1989 to 1998 and later graduated from SOU.

Although veterans receive approximately $1,200 each month to pay for education through the GI Bill, it covers only about 60 percent of tuition and fees, she said.

The scholarship fund was one of several suggestions to help veterans made by Maj. Travis Lee and Linda Richards in their Master's in Management capstone project last year. Lee, a military science instructor, and Richards, a peace activist since the age of nine, made an unlikely pair able to make people feel at ease talking about veterans' affairs, Ogren said.

"It helps promote the project when people see two groups that are supposed to be opposed work together," said Richards, whose father served in Vietnam. "That is the important part, that people can work together to create support for veterans and their families, and it takes everyone. If Travis and I can work together to do this thing, so can everyone else because I am definitely on the far end of the spectrum from Travis."

Students speak

Students are excited about the possibility of support from the community and additional aid for their schooling.

"Being a vet, I think it's an excellent fund and provides some needed help for the veterans," said senior psychology major Chris McKennett, who served in Hawaii from 1975 to 1979. "Especially with the war going on, they're coming back to mixed feelings."

McKennett will likely benefit from the fund because he plans to pursue a master's degree in social work at SOU. He said the scholarships will help encourage younger veterans to go to school.

"Most of them are a little more pro-school than I was," he said. "You don't want to come back in a minimum wage job. The only way to put yourself ahead is an education."

Non-veteran students are less clear about why their military counterparts need the extra help.

"I think that the government should have a lot of money for them," said education graduate student Magdelana Harlow. "We pay a lot of taxes, and I don't see why the general public has to keep donating money for scholarships."

Her friend Tracey Solem, also an education grad student, had similar doubts.

"I guess I thought they already got scholarships," she said.

The capstone project recommendations also led to the creation of the Veteran's Student Union, a club on campus aimed at reducing the isolation many veterans feel when they return from duty. The most ambitious recommendation was to offer 12 free credits to veterans who have served since September 11, 2001, something that will only be possible once the financial situation of SOU improves, Ogren said.

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