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Students who are veterans praise USC Aiken for its efforts to help them

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Among military veterans transitioning to civilian life, USC Aiken has a solid reputation as a good place to make that change.

Military Times has perennially included the school in its annual ranking of “Best for Vets” colleges.

During the Rotary Club of Aiken’s meeting Monday at Newberry Hall, three USC Aiken students who also are veterans talked about their experiences while furthering their education.

Robert Murphy, director of USC Aiken’s Office of Veteran and Military Student Success, or VMSS, introduced the trio of speakers and also provided some statistics.

“At one point,” in the fall of 2018, veteran and military scholars made up about 14% of USC Aiken’s student population, Murphy said. “To put that into perspective,” he continued, “usually about 5 to 6% is what we see nationally as a part of the whole population at an institution of higher education.”

In the spring of 2020, veteran and military students represented 17.6% of USC Aiken’s graduating class.

“One of the points of pride that we have is that about 74% of all of these men and women who are graduating are graduating with honors,” Murphy said.

Alvin Iribhogbe is getting ready to graduate from the USC Aiken School of Nursing. Born in Nigeria, he served in the U.S. Army for seven years.

“Apart from getting married to my wife, my next best decision in my life was to come to USC Aiken, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I’ve been to some (other) schools and veterans offices, and I can’t compare them to what USC Aiken offers. All I can say is that you guys are doing an outstanding job.”

Iribhogbe said USC Aiken’s VMSS office “welcomed and encouraged” him and helped him get scholarship money.

Adam Boese, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was living with his wife in the Philippines when an earthquake destroyed their home in April 2019. They decided afterward to move to the North Augusta area, where his parents were living.

“Then in February (of this year), the coronavirus hit, and the Philippines went into a complete lockdown,” Boese said.

He and his wife weren’t able to travel to America until August, but Boese continued to make plans for college prior to their departure.

“Of all the schools that I applied to, the only one with a veterans assistance office that reached out to me was USC Aiken,” he said.

The staff helped Boese deal with issues involving residency requirements and financial aid.

“VMSS was with me every step of the way,” said Boese, who is pursuing a degree in applied computer science. “Even now that I’m here and settled, they regularly reach out to me to see how things are going or if I need anything.”

Kristin Hontz, a U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, is preparing to graduate from USC Aiken with a sociology degree.

She recalled that when she decided to attend the school, she was concerned because others had told her that she would have problems with the GI Bill, which provides educational assistance to veterans.

But because of VMSS, “there were no hitches, no glitches,” she said. “Everything went so smooth. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.”

And her experience continued to be positive.

Hontz has worked for Murphy and VMSS while at USC Aiken.

“I have now made friends all over campus that I didn’t know I needed, she said. “The (VMSS) Center is an amazing place, where people can come, study and talk to other vets.”

Veterans Day is Wednesday.

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