Trustees updated on Penn State’s veteran support, military appreciation efforts

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s services and programs to help student veterans transition from military life to higher education will get a boost from a planned student veteran center at University Park, according to Eugene McFeely, the University’s senior director for Veterans Affairs and Services. 

McFeely presented plans for the new Servicemember Veteran Center (SVC) to the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations on Thursday, Nov. 9, as part of an update on the University’s activities and efforts in support of student veterans and the military. Since his appointment in October 2016, McFeely’s charge has been to look strategically at veteran affairs in the Penn State system, identify gaps in service, and seek opportunities to enhance the University’s student veteran experience.   

 As a result of those efforts, McFeely said the SVC will be housed in Ritenour Building and serve as a “one-stop-shop” for University Park’s approximately 850 student veterans.  

“Our vision is to create a dedicated physical space that collocates veteran services, support and activities in a more accessible space that is better tailored to our student veterans and their unique needs,” said McFeely, a retired Air Force colonel. “Ritenour provides the ideal central location close to several key campus resources such as numerous academic units, academic advising, tutoring, career services, disability services, accessible parking and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), all of which are essential to student veteran success. This access is particularly important to a community that has the potential for higher rates of special needs, such as accessibility, than any other student population.” 

The center will house the Office of Veterans Programs; the newly created Office of Veterans Affairs and Services, which McFeely oversees; a student veteran lounge; a student veteran study area; and multi-use rooms that will provide space for student veteran organizations, support groups and programming. 

 McFeely said the new space creates opportunities to build community and peer-to-peer engagement among veterans and allows the University to expand its existing veteran services, which include assistance with GI Bill benefits, transition-to-college programs, peer-to-peer mentoring and support, counseling resources, and military appreciation events.    

“The SVC will greatly enhance the programs and services Penn State provides student veterans,” McFeely said. “Collocating the Office of Veterans Programs and the Office of Veterans Affairs and Services will facilitate better coordination between the two veteran-focused offices and give better student veteran access to the Office of Veterans Affairs and Services, which is the lead advocate for veterans and veterans’ issues throughout the Penn State system.” 

McFeely also updated the committee on Military Appreciation Week events, which culminate on Saturday, Nov. 11, with the Military Appreciation Day football game, now in its sixth year. Thanks to the generosity of Penn State supporters, 7,500 tickets to the game against Rutgers were donated to military members, veterans and their families through the Seats for Servicemembers Program. The University also will host more than 10,000 active-duty service members, veterans and their families at a tailgate party before the game.  

A number of special events are planned for the game itself, including a military flyover that will feature four Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets piloted by Penn State alumni; a military-themed halftime show presented by the Penn State Blue Band; red, white and blue fireworks; and a World War II veteran recognition. Penn State alumnus Col. James Harding will serve as the game’s honorary captain.  

“Our Military Appreciation Day football game and tailgate are powered by the generosity of so many Penn Staters who give of their time and resources in support of our military, making this event the largest of its kind in the Big Ten,” McFeely said. “The fact that all available tickets were exhausted within nine hours shows just how much this event means to our military community.”  

Mark Dambly, chair of the Board of Trustees, also took time during his remarks to the board today (Nov. 10) to recognize the exemplary work of our military heroes through the Seats for Servicemembers Program and the Military Appreciation Day Tailgate. 

“This is made possible by the Penn Staters, community members, and businesses that purchase, literally, thousands of tickets for these heroes,” Dambly said. “Likewise, our thanks go to the volunteers who are working tirelessly to plan and participate in tomorrow’s pre-game tailgate for our service members, veterans and their families, and families of our fallen heroes.” 

In the spirit of military appreciation, Dambly introduced three special guests to the board: McFeely and students Austin Bieniawski and Max Rohn — each Penn Staters with military ties.  

McFeely received his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and graduated from Penn State’s ROTC program in 1989. Before returning to the University in 2014 as commander of Detachment 720 in the Air Force ROTC and serving as ROTC joint-service coordinator, he enjoyed a distinguished career in the Air Force. Among his many assignments, McFeely served as deputy director of force planning in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, commanded the 336th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, served as division chief of the 607th Combat Squadron in Korea, and flew 215 combat missions during operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom.  

Bieniawski is a senior from Stafford County, Virginia, majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in military studies. He is a member of the Penn State Navy ROTC, and as a Schreyer Honors College Scholar is conducting research for his honors thesis, which has a working title of “An Investigation into the Impact of Alternative Nuclear Fuel Cladding Options on Boiling Heat Transfer.” 

Rohn, who was permanently injured in 2009 while on duty in Iraq, now balances the demands of being a world-class athlete with Penn State Ability Athletics and his engineering studies. Competing in the javelin, shot put and discus, Rohn’s accomplishments are long and impressive, including competing internationally for Team USA in the Paralympics and the Invictus Games. 

 

Last Updated November 10, 2017