Veterans Upward Bound helps vets connect with college opportunities — and with one another

ASU program's Department of Education grant renewed for 44th straight year

Participants in the ASU Veterans Upward Bound program take a class

Arizona State University’s TRIO Veterans Upward Bound (VUB), a free college-preparatory program aimed at veterans who are either low-income or potential first-generation college students, has been awarded federal funding for the 44th year in a row.

VUB’s mission is to motivate, assist and support veterans in Maricopa County in their pursuit of higher education — or, in the case of 75-year-old Army veteran George “Sweet Erv” Campbell, simply their pursuit of knowledge and camaraderie.

“You get to hang out with people that you know. If you’ve ever been in the military, you’d understand,” said Campbell (pictured above, left), who was attached to the Air Force and worked with the Nike Hercules missile system before leaving the service in 1964. “They call it esprit de corps. Once you’re in the military, you understand others who’ve been in it. There’s a common bond.”

The VUB program — which is freeThe program is supported by the U.S. Department of Education. for participants and has services on four of ASU’s campuses — offers individualized online courses and academic coaching; one-on-one sessions focused on skills including goal setting and financial literacy; assistance with the admissions process (whether to ASU or other colleges); and continued support throughout their academic career, even after they’ve left the program. There are also such activities as attending a Broadway show at ASU Gammage and going to a football game.

During the new grant cycle, veterans in Pinal County will also have the opportunity to participate in VUB annually. The program will provide service to approximately 140 college-bound/interested veterans; there are 30 people in the program currently.

VUB “offers veterans an excellent opportunity to learn how to transfer their military skills into higher education,” said VUB director Verónica Hernández. “Moreover, the program provides veterans step-by-step guidance and a vital support system in their college success and accomplishments.”

The instruction is tailored to the participant’s needs. It can include specific subjects like math and English, or broader topics like computer skills. The latter is the case for Campbell.

“We didn’t have computers back in my day — back in the ’50s … I think it’s fascinating, and I personally think it’s great,” he said. “Computer skills — if you don’t know anything about that, you don’t know what you’ve lost.”

Campbell, whose plans are to eventually attend photography classes at South Mountain Community College, is putting those computer skills to work. He has a handful of Facebook pages, as well as a collection of YouTube channels and a Twitter account.

Participants in the ASU Veterans Upward Bound program talk after a workshop

TRIO Veterans Upward Bound participants George “Sweet Erv” Campbell (left) and Terry Henry chat after a VUB session at ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Aaron Gould

The length of the program varies depending on the participant. It’s based on individuals’ needs and what they need to move to the next step in their education pursuit.

VUB participant Chris Bilandzija, who served in the Coast Guard until 2004, will start at ASU this January pursuing a degree in social work. In addition to supplementing his math and English skills, he said the program gave him the “confidence of being a successful student.”

“They walk you through every step of the process of getting back into ASU,” he said, adding, “They know how to teach veterans. They understand it; they get it.”

Since 1973, VUB has yielded impressive results. Participants have demonstrated a 70 percent improvement on standardized tests, compared with a 58 percent national average; and more than 55 percent enroll in a postsecondary program within a year of completing VUB, according to its staff.

For Campbell, he has just one complaint about the program:

“You’re a little late — you should’ve had it in ’64 when I got out of the service.”

Learn more about the program here.

Top photo: Veterans Upward Bound participants George “Sweet Erv” Campbell (left) and Domonic Colonna take part in a skills training workshop. Photo by Aaron Gould

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