Kyle Aines is a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq. Today, he’s still serving others in his role as associate director of veteran and military services at CCV, where he spends his days helping fellow veterans who are going back to school, just as he did as a non-traditional student returning to civilian life.
His own story is important—as he says, he knows what veteran and military students are going through because he’s walked a mile in their boots.
For CCV student Lisa Stockwell, that’s been huge. Starting out at CCV this summer, and working with Aines, “was really great, because [with] Kyle you’re not just talking to a fellow veteran, you’re talking to a fellow adult who decided later in life to go to a college, which is a whole unique set of…not necessarily challenges, but it’s certainly not the normal ideology.”
Indeed, Aines says he often reflects on his own experiences in his work with veterans. “I never believed that education was something for me. I never [completely] believed that it was something that I could do.” But he says after he got through it and was successful, he took a great deal of pride in his education. “And so when I help veterans that are in those same situations, wondering ‘am I doing the right thing? Is this for me? Am I too old?’ If I can help them, and try to alleviate some of this through my own experience, that is a huge reward for me.”
Stockwell says Kyle connected her with scholarship opportunities, and generally made her feel welcome. “He was really, really supportive,” she says, “to the point of showing up on my first day of Anatomy & Physiology with a cup of my favorite coffee to ensure that I would actually go to class.”
Stockwell is pursuing a certificate in allied health on her way to a nursing degree. She served in the U.S. Navy for 8 years, and has since had jobs in a variety of fields, including education, hospitality, and telecommunications. For the past 15 years, she’s been working as a private caregiver for patients with end-stage Alzheimer’s disease. She says nursing is a lifelong passion.
Stockwell was reluctant about that first day of class, to put it mildly. “It wasn’t just apprehension,” she says. “It was downright fear.”
She’d joined the military, back in 1990, to avoid having to go to college. A 9th-generation Vermonter, she felt that these were her two options—and college was out of the question. “I just did not feel that I was smart enough.”
Fast forward almost thirty years, and that belief about herself is slowly but surely changing. This summer, she took her first two college classes at CCV-Middlebury, followed by two more this fall. “I had a very fixed mindset about my own intelligence, and in the past few months have certainly turned that around into a growth mindset.”
That transformation is happening thanks to Aines and other CCV staff and instructors who “openly embrace older students such as myself. And really just make it all-inclusive and make you comfortable, and make it work for you,” says Stockwell.
Aines, alongside Coordinator of Student Advising Marty McMahon and the CCV Veterans Services team, works with more than 400 veteran and military-connected students each semester. They provide a range of different supports—from navigating GI benefits to providing one-on-one guidance through the financial aid process, and from specialized career advising to simply being there to offer moral support (or, who knows, maybe even a hot cup of coffee). The Veterans Services team helped to organize three Veterans Town Halls earlier this month, marking three years of involvement with the forum that aims to bridge the divide between veterans and civilians.
This year, the Veterans Services team developed the Patriot Program in response to a growing desire among veteran students for a greater sense of community. The Patriot Program is a new service model intended to better support students as they transition into CCV and on to careers or transfer. The model is designed to provide greater levels of structure in order to help students plan for academic success and articulate goals for their education and careers.
Aines emphasized that participation in the Patriot Program isn’t mandatory, but that the added support can be tailored to fit student needs. Aines says he and his team want to know “ ‘what are your interests, and what can we help you with this semester? What are your goals?’ Students get to choose what interests them, and also how we can help them.” As part of this effort, CCV was also approved for VA Work Study funds. VA Work Study students will get paid to provide support services such as mentoring fellow students and organizing study groups.
CCV is proud to honor our veteran and military-connected students this Veterans Day. Aines says he wants veterans to know just how broad the support is at CCV. “It goes beyond just my position. We really get support from the top down, CCV-wide, across the state. Everybody wants to be involved with veterans, wants to help in whatever way they can. The support is there.”
Lisa Stockwell has some words of advice for fellow veterans who may be experiencing the same fears she once did about her ability to succeed in college: “Reach back into boot camp. You absolutely can do it. Tap back into that, and you can do anything.”
To learn more about CCV’s new VA Work Study positions and to apply, contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Veterans Services at CCV, visit ccv.edu/veterans.