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Patrick Coleman heading GRCC's new Veterans Center, helping students transition from the military to college

Sept. 22, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Patrick Coleman wasn’t sure what to do with his life after leaving the U.S. Army in 1995, and didn’t know where he could turn to for help.

“There were no doors for me to walk through,” he said.

Coleman now will be able to help fellow veterans who are GRCC students find those doors. As GRCC’s new veteran’s success coordinator, he is overseeing the college’s new Veterans Center, opening next month in the newly renovated G2 floor of Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall.

The U.S. Education Department in January awarded GRCC a grant to create the center, which will serve as a hub for planning and delivering services to students who have served in the armed services.

The center will serve as a single point of contact, connecting veterans with campus resources including financial aid, advising and disability support. The project also will help GRCC expand its partnerships with state and local veterans’ agencies, helping students access benefits and support in the community.

The center also will help with outreach efforts, making veterans in the community aware of opportunities at GRCC to earn credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills.

The Veterans Success Center will host workshops and speakers, and provide opportunities for networking and social events for the students.

“I’m here to help our veterans after they leave the service – anything they need,” Coleman said. “Being a veteran myself, I learned there was a lot to navigate when I began my college education. There were no clear instructions on how to transition from combat to college. I can help them get around any detours they encounter. I’m the resource guy!”

Coleman said his goal is to make the Veterans Center a place where veterans can go for help with a variety of challenges, from academic to personal.

“We have so many resources here on campus, and many of them might not know or remember,” he said.

Coleman said he didn’t like the career opportunities available to him after he left the service, and knew he’d need more education. He jumped into a four-year program, thinking it was the only option he had. The college environment was challenging and he had to develop academic skills – eventually graduating summa cum laude from Cornerstone University with a Master of Business Administration.

Discovering his passion for service, Coleman worked in several roles with Michigan Works!, an agency that helps people gain in-demand skills and connect them with employers. He then became a business community liaison with the Gerald R. Ford Jobs Corps Center, and became executive director of 70x7 Life Recovery. He came to GRCC as an educational training specialist in 2020 after a post in state government.

He’s also worked in the classroom, serving as an adjunct instructor at GRCC, Muskegon Community College, Davenport University, and ITT Technical Institute.

Coleman said his experiences in the Army and his civilian roles will help him serve as an advocate for GRCC’s veteran students, a number he expects to grow in the years ahead. More than 400 GRCC students take advantage of existing veterans services, and the college hopes to grow that number to more than 500 in three years.

Services will include:

  • One-on-one advising.
  • Veterans Administration work study positions.
  • Tutoring and academic support.
  • Assistance in completing the VA education benefits process.
  • Peer support, outreach, and resources for student veterans through Peer Advisors for Veteran Education. 

Coleman also wants the Veterans Center to be a place where students can come to relax and be part of a community with others who have served and will understand the challenges they face.

GRCC Registrar Valerie Butterfield said the U.S. Education Department support and Coleman’s background and determination will allow GRCC to better serve students who have served their country.

“GRCC has a long history of honoring our veterans and helping them take advantage of their benefits,” she said. “The new Veterans Center allows us to take that work to the next level, with a dedicated space for veterans of all ages. They will be able to get support from the college, but also from each other.” 

Students can connect with the Veterans Center by phone at (616) 234-2578, and by email at veterans@grcc.edu. Additional information is available online at grcc.edu/veterans

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