Veterans Center of Excellence Celebration

Bill Erickson, General Council Secretary of the Cowlitz Tribe (left) accepted an award recognizing the crucial support of the Cowlitz Foundation. Pictured above (left to right) with Dr. Karin Edwards, Cheree Nygard, and Donna Larson.
Photo: Monica Patton

Generations of veterans connected to Clark College gathered to celebrate how the college and its partners have impacted veteran students over the years. The May 21 event in Gaiser Student Center celebrated 10 years of the Veterans Center of Excellence (VCOE) at Clark College. The college has offered unique resources for veterans for much longer than a decade.

Several speakers shared the history of the Veterans Center of Excellence at Clark and reflected on how the VCOE has changed lives.

Cheree Nygard, chair of Clark College Foundation Board of Directors, a veteran, and a long-time supporter of the center said, “Reflecting on the inception of the VCOE fills me with pride and nostalgia. A decade ago, we embarked on a journey filled with hope and determination to support our veterans. Over the years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of the VCOE on veterans’ education and their successful integration into civilian life. Together, we’ve achieved significant milestones and made a tangible difference in the lives of our military-affiliated students.”

Nygard added, “Today, I stand before you as a testament to the resilience and determination of our veteran community. The VCOE has been more than just an educational resource; it has been a lifeline, providing guidance, mentorship, and a sense of belonging to so many of us. As we celebrate our past achievements, let us look towards the future with optimism and determination. Clark College remains steadfast in its commitment to serving and supporting our military-affiliated students, ensuring they have the necessary resources to succeed.”

A video highlighted Clark College student veterans sharing their stories and talking about how the support of the VCOE impacted their lives and their ability to succeed in school.

William (Bill) Erickson, General Council Secretary of the Cowlitz Tribe, contributed a land acknowledgment and shared the importance of veterans to his tribe. A high percentage of Cowlitz Tribe members are veterans.

Clark College President Dr. Karin Edwards and Donna Larson presented appreciation certificates to those who have made substantial financial contributions to the VCOE.

Photo: Monica Patton

Jane Hagelstein (pictured above receiving recognition from Dr. Edwards), a founding member of Clark’s Veterans Advisory Board, began supporting Clark Student Veterans in 2011 with a scholarship. She continued supporting student veterans by providing funds to build out the Veteran Resource Center for facilities, staffing, and emergency grants. Her overall support of veterans with scholarships and emergency grants, along with facilities and staffing support has totaled $300,000 from 2011 to 2019. Without her generosity and belief in helping student veterans, there would not be a Veteran Center of Excellence today. She was a founding member of the Veterans Advisory Board.

The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation contributed $250,000 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the VCOE to expand basic needs and to provide needed technology devices student veterans needed to transition to remote learning.

People had opportunities to write thank-you notes to veterans and to meet others who are connected to the VCOE.

Donna Larson, associate director of the VCOE, said, “This event was truly a celebration for student veterans, alumni, staff, and supporters of the VCOE to celebrate this important milestone. The atmosphere felt like a tight-knit family gathering.”

She added, “A short history of the VCOE was shared, along with several inspirational student stories. The highlight of the event was presenting Clark College student coins to Jane Hagelstein and Bill Erickson of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in appreciation for large donations to support the VCOE. After the program, employees, students, partners, and honorees mingled while they enjoyed coffee and festive cupcakes and cake.”

About Veterans Center of Excellence

The center assists military-affiliated students with their educational journey. Focused on supporting veteran student success, the center provides a single point of contact to coordinate comprehensive, individualized support services that address the academic, financial, physical, and social needs of Clark College’s student veterans. A Clark College veteran is any military-affiliated student at Clark: veterans, active duty, or a military dependent, either spouse or child.

The center’s staff can connect student veterans to agencies, programs, and support. The center also provides tutoring, help with books and calculators; useful workshops; a study area with computers and printers; a lounge and games for relaxation; networking with other veterans, and more.

Monica Patton, Program Coordinator, and Megan Anderson, Veterans Educational Planner. Photo: Carly Rae Zent.

Connect with VCOE:

Timeline: Veterans Center at Clark College

  • November 2013: Clark College President Bob Knight began a new tradition: a college-sponsored celebration honoring veterans held the Thursday before Veterans Day in Gaiser Student Center. At that event, Knight announced the college would one day have a Veterans Resource Center on campus.
  • At that same Nov. 2013 event: Jennifer Rhoads, president of Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, announced in honor of the foundation’s 30th anniversary, they would donate six grants of $30,000 each to help alleviate poverty. The first grant was for Clark College to create its Veteran Resource Center.
  • March 2014: First open house at new Veterans Resource Center at Clark College—less than four months after the CFSWW announced the grant, the center held its first public event to welcome student veterans and the college community
  • Feb. 2021: The Veterans Resource Center received a $449,460 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success over three years. Clark was one of only two community colleges in the state to receive the grant. Focused on supporting student success, the Center will provide a single point of contact to coordinate comprehensive, individualized support services that address the academic, financial, physical, and social needs of Clark College’s student-veterans.

Read previous stories about the VCOE

Veterans Career & Resource Fair

Megan Anderson of Clark’s Veterans Center of Excellence holds one of the 88 backpacks with school supplies given to students at the event.

Clark College’s Veterans Center of Excellence partnered with Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez for the VCOE’s first Veterans Career and Resource Fair on November 7. The VCOE plans to make this an annual event open to students and the community.  

Gaiser Student Center was filled with 56 tables of participating agencies, nonprofits and businesses that provided veterans and veteran students information about employment opportunities and community resources. The event also included free lunch, coffee drinks and giveaways. 

“We are thrilled with the number of student and community participants who attended this first annual event,” said Donna Larson, Associate Director of the Veterans Center of Excellence. “We are grateful to the community-based organizations for their strong support for veterans at this event. When we started planning this event, we planned for 40 organizations to come to the event, but never imagined that we would have 56 organizations wanting to partner with us. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event happen.” 

Representatives from the office of Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez participated in the Veterans Resource and Job Fair.

Although Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez could not attend the event due to her legislative duties in Washington, D.C., her staff members Cameron Kockritz, Peter Sandifer, and Tony Sprague attended on her behalf and spoke with veterans about helping them connect with federal agencies. 

Sprague conveyed this message: “While the Congresswoman was disappointed to have missed the event due to her legislative duties in the other Washington, she wanted me to share the below message with all of you.” 

“It’s our responsibility to ensure our nation’s heroes are well-supported after returning home. I’m so glad we could help connect Southwest Washington veterans and their families to the resources, jobs, and benefits they deserve. I sincerely appreciate all the veterans who stopped by this event, as well as Clark College and community organizations who joined together to support our local heroes.” 

Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez

View a video greeting from Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez here

Many businesses and organizations reached out to veterans about specific jobs they are trying to fill. These included ilani Casino Resort, SEH America, and Silicon Forest Electronics.  

“A lot of our jobs are tailored to what vets learn in the military,” said a representative of SEH America who also is a Clark College alum. “We also offer educational reimbursement for employees who are college students.” 

Volunteer John Chapman, above, was at the Veteran Administration’s My Health eVet table helping veterans sign up for healthcare accounts. He said, “We also are encouraging college students to do work-study at the VA. It’s a great opportunity.” 

Here is a sampling of organizations that provided resource information at the event:  

  • 1st Choice Advisory Service: Provided resources about affordable in-home care, memory care, connecting people with elder law attorneys, movers, real estate agents, and more 
  • Area Agency on Aging & Disability of Southwest Washington: Hiring for various positions; also direct families to resources for loved ones who need in-home care 
  • Clark County Food Bank: Offered an extensive list of local food pantries 
  • Fort Vancouver Regional Library: Offers use of computers; people can check out books, laptops, graphing calculators, scientific calculators, and more 
  • Fourth Plain Forward: Provided information about community microgrants and starting a business  
  • Free Clinic of Southwest Washington: Offers free medical and dental care for uninsured people; also has volunteer opportunities in its clinics, excellent experience for Clark students in dental hygiene and medical programs 
  • NAMI Southwest Washington (National Alliance on Mental Illness): Offered information about mental health crisis counseling and local support groups 
  • Pier 360 (formerly CVAB): Hiring for various positions, offers recovery support groups and many other connection opportunities 
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: Offered information about its crisis line and mental health programs 
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-Portland VA Medical Center: Offered information about employment services including vocational rehabilitation, finding and keeping a job, teaching about disability rights and reasonable accommodations  
  • Veterans Administration-My Healthy Vet: Providing information about veterans signing up for healthcare accounts and the VA’s work-study program 
  • Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs: Connected veterans with resources and helped them apply for benefits 

Event by the numbers: 

  • 56 tables offering resources 
  • 120 registered attendees 
  • 300 lunches provided 
  • 131 coffee/smoothies 
  • 88 backpacks with school supplies distributed to students 

Photos: Clark College/Susan Parrish

Clark College honors Vietnam War veterans by dedicating Witness Tree

Large tree in with people around at the ceremony

More than 100 Vietnam War veterans, families and supporters gathered at Clark College on March 29 to dedicate a Witness Tree commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.  

Left to right: Clark College Board of Trustee Chair Paul Speer with Col. Larry Smith (Ret) and Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle

Hosted by the Community Military Appreciation Committee, the event began with a panel of speakers, including Vietnam veterans and advocates who spoke about the realities of war.

Col. Mike Burton, USAF (ret) said, “Many Vietnam vets are still carrying the scars, both mental and physical. When they came back, nobody talked about it. Nobody wanted to talk about it.”

Then the crowd walked outside along a sidewalk lined with veterans holding American and military flags and stopped at the base of a majestic Turkish black fir to dedicate the tree.

Clark College Board of Trustees Chair Paul Speer told the crowd that selecting the campus as the site of the Vietnam War Witness Tree “recognizes the important role that Clark College has played for generations of veterans and their families whether in supporting their educational goals or their struggle with the physical and emotional scars that have been inflicted upon them. Whether in the classroom, at the Veteran’s Resource Center, or in the community, Clark has provided a beacon of hope, opportunity, and transformation for 90 years and will continue to do so for at least the next 90.”

Vietnam veterans’ connection to Clark College

Left to right: Vietnam War Veteran Luis Munoz, US Navy 1960-64 received a service pin at the event, and Vietnam War Veteran Larry Lewton, 72, US Navy 1969-71.

Many Vietnam veterans attended the event, and many had Clark College connections. Luis Munoz served in the US Navy aboard the USS Canberra from 1960 to 1964. When he returned home to Vancouver, he took mechanical engineering classes at Clark. Munoz’s career included working in the missile program at Lockheed.

Larry Lewton served in the US Navy aboard the USS Kittyhawk. After his military service, he took photography classes at Clark College, had a career as a medical photographer and worked at OHSU in Portland.

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle told the crowd that President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day in 2012. The day is meant to be observed with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50-year anniversary of when the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam of March 29, 1973.

McEnerny-Ogle said, “In Vancouver we prioritize honoring all veterans and their families for the sacrifice and their service for this country. Let’s remind all who were in that conflict that they are still respected, still honored 50 years later.”

Photographs: Clark College/Susan Parrish

Veterans Resource Center  receives grant

Silouhette of two soldiers saluting the U.S. flag

 The Veterans Resource Center at Clark College received a $449,460 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success (CEVSS) over three years. Clark is one of only two community colleges in the state to receive the grant. Focused on supporting veteran student success, the Center will provide a single point of contact to coordinate comprehensive, individualized support services that address the academic, financial, physical, and social needs of Clark College’s 600 student-veterans.  

Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Michele Cruse said, “We are grateful to receive grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support our Veterans Resource Center. This grant comes at a critical time when the needs of our military-connected students continue to outpace our available resources. This grant will allow our Veterans Resource Center to expand its offerings.” 

To better support student veterans, Clark College will establish a cross-departmental team with representatives from every office that works with student veterans, including Admissions, Financial Aid, the Counseling and Health Center, and Career Services—to name just a few. 

Additionally, the grant will pay for a full-time student success coach; half of a full-time program coordinator position; a part-time tutoring position; outreach and recruitment activities; disability accommodations such as Live Scribe pens; and essentials including housing and food supports for student veterans. 

Associate Director of Veterans Services Dave Daly said, “Because of this grant, the Center will now have the ability to help today’s warriors not only to transition from the service, but also to be more successful in staying in school and completing their path in higher education. Our goal is for our student veterans to bring their deeper, world perspective not only to Clark College, but also as graduates who are productive, insightful members of the greater community.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray announced the grant award from the U.S. Department of Education and called it a vital investment in Washington state’s veterans. 

Senator Murray said, “I’m glad to see this federal award going towards helping veterans in Washington state as they pursue an education and I appreciate Clark College’s efforts to help those who have served our country. As a proud partner of our state’s veterans and educators, I will continue working to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed and thrive.” 

Senator Murray is the incoming chair of the Senate education committee, serves on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and is a steadfast advocate for veterans and their families. 

About Clark College 

Founded in 1933, Clark College provides residents of Southwest Washington with affordable, high-quality academic and technical education. It is a public community college offering more than 100 degree and certificate programs, including bachelor’s and associate degrees; professional certificates; high school diplomas and GED preparation; and non-credit community and continuing education. Clark serves a wide range of students including high school students, displaced workers, veterans, parents, non-native English speakers, and mature learners. Approximately three-quarters of its students are in the first generation of their families to attend college.  

Clark College named Best for Vets

Two Clark staff members smiling and serving a U.S. flag-decorated cake under a sign that says "Welcome, Veterans!"
Clark College employees serve cake at the opening of the Veterans Resource Center in 2014.

Clark College has been named a 2020 Best for Vets college in the Career and Technical College category by Military Times.

For 10 years, Military Times has conducted an extensive, editorially independent,
objective study evaluating the many factors that help make colleges and
universities a good fit for service members, military veterans, and
their families. The final rankings for 2020 can be found here. More details about the rankings can be found on

“This is the third year in a row that
Clark College has been recognized as a Best for Vets college,” said Clark
College Veterans Resource Center Interim Manager Dave Daly. “I think it speaks
to the systems we’ve built to support our student veterans and ensure that they
are successful in their transition from military to academic life.”

Opened in 2014, the Veterans Resource
offers student veterans a wide range of
services and resources, from free tutoring to help accessing GI Bill benefits.
The space includes couches for socializing with fellow veterans, computer labs,
shelves and racks of free textbooks and clothing, and staff who can help
connect student veterans with resources or just listen to their experiences
without judgment. Additionally, the center has partnered with Clark College
Dental Hygiene and the American Legion Post 176 to provide subsidized dental
care to student veterans.

Currently, 304 Clark College students identify as veterans.

Photo: Clark College/Jenny Shadley

Giving vets a starring role

people in star formation honoring Veterans Day

Clark staff, faculty, and students participated in a special Veterans Day photo on Nov. 10, 2016.

The Veterans Resource Center would like to thank everyone who participated in our Veterans Day photo on November 10. As you can see from the image, it was a huge success. We hope to grow this annual celebration so veterans in our community know how much we appreciate their service. Thank you for all you do for our veteran community.

This photo and article submitted by Kelly Jones.


Jessica Lynch to speak at Commencement

Jessica Lynch

Pfc. Jessica Lynch will address Clark College’s Class of 2016. Lynch was taken prisoner during the Iraq war and was held for over a week before being rescued by U.S. Special Forces. REUTERS/Blake Sell

Former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch will share her experiences overcoming obstacles and her belief in the important role of education with the Clark College Class of 2016 as the college’s Commencement keynote speaker on June 16.

“Jessica Lynch is a wonderful example of how strength of character can help people survive the hardest of situations,” said Clark College President Robert K. Knight. “I believe she will make a strong connection with our students.”

Clark College’s Commencement ceremony is scheduled to be held on the evening of June 16 in Sunlight Supply Amphitheater. Tickets are not required to attend.

About Jessica Lynch

Jessica LynchJessica Lynch is a former Private First Class (PFC) in the United States Army and a former prisoner of war. On March 23, 2003, she was injured and captured by Iraqi forces after her unit was ambushed in Iraq. She was rescued after nine days in captivity on April 1, 2003, by U.S. special operations forces. Lynch’s rescue was the first successful rescue of an American POW since World War II.

Today, Lynch speaks to various groups around the United States about overcoming her obstacles and how perseverance helped her survive. Lynch further explains that despite the most difficult circumstances – whatever they might be – a positive outlook and determination can truly help individuals live fulfilling lives and accomplish their goals.

Lynch has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education and a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies. In 2014, she toured the U.S. promoting Virtuous, a faith-based movie by JC Films. She recently filmed her second faith-based movie titled One Church and will be filming her third movie in March 2015.

Lynch has appeared on Good Morning AmericaToday ShowCBS Morning ShowHuckabee Show, CNN, MSNBC, David Letterman Show, Fox, Prime Time on ABC with Dianne Sawyer, E News!, CBN, and various local networks throughout the country. She has appeared on the cover of numerous magazines such as TIME and People. She has been named West Virginian of the Year as well as Glamour’s Woman of the Year.

Clark College Honors Memorial Day

Veterans ImageClark College’s Veterans Resource Center is honoring Memorial Day by commemorating veterans who have given their lives in service to their country on Tuesday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m. in the Penguin Union Building room 161 on the college’s main campus. (The college is closed on Memorial Day.) Dr. Samantha Powers will be the featured guest speaker at the event, which is free and open to the public. The colors will be presented and light refreshments will be served.

Dr. Powers is the Project Director and a trainer for the Veterans Training Support Center of the Center for Learning Connections, Edmonds Community College. She is a veteran of the United States Air Force Special Operations. A combat veteran who served in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom, Dr. Powers volunteers for a number of veterans organizations in Washington State as a member and officer. She is an adjunct instructor at various higher education institutions in Organizational Leadership and Emergency Management programs. Dr. Powers holds a B.A. in Military History from Virginia Tech, an M.A. in International Relations from University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Old Dominion University.

Clark College serves more than 400 veterans each year. The Veterans Resource Center provides services to those students, helping them navigate everything from their G.I. Bill benefits to helping them find textbook and other resources.

Clark College’s main campus is located at 1933 Ft. Vancouver Way in Vancouver, Wash. Directions and maps are available at Individuals who need accommodation due to a disability in order to fully participate in this event should contact Clark College’s Disability Support Services (DSS) Office at 360-992-2314 or 360-991-0901 (VP). The DSS office is located in room 013 in Clark’s Penguin Union Building.

Student Club Prepares for Veterans Day

Steve Mitchell

Clark College Veterans Club member Steve Mitchley hangs a ribbon from the Honor Tree that will be displayed during this year’s Veterans Day celebration.

Members of the Clark College Veterans Club and Associated Students are staffing a table outside of Gaiser Student Center from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. all week in advance of the college’s Veterans Day celebration on November 10. Members of the college community are invited to write holiday cards to be sent to members of the military serving overseas. They can also add ribbons to an Honor Tree that will be displayed during Monday’s celebration.


20141103_1445Ribbons are color-coded.

  • White ribbon: in memory of a loved one who gave/lost their life in service
  • Blue ribbon: in honor of a loved one who is serving
  • Red ribbon: you are currently serving or have served
  • Yellow ribbon: general support and thanks to all veterans and service members
  • Black ribbon: in recognition of someone who was a POW/MIA
  • Purple ribbon: in honor of Purple Heart recipients


student honoring veterans

A Clark College student hangs a ribbon on the Honor Tree and fills out a holiday card to be sent to a servicemember overseas.

This is the second year that the college is hosting a Veterans Day celebration. Last year, the event included the presentation of a grant from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington that helped start and staff the college’s Veterans Resource Center, which opened earlier this year.

The college is always closed on Veterans Day, so each year the celebration takes place on the day before or after the official holiday. This year’s Veterans Day celebration takes place 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Gaiser Student Center. In addition to the honor tree and card-writing station, it will include a Presentation of the Colors, guest speakers, free food and refreshments, and kid-friendly activities. It is open to the all members of the Clark College community, regardless of military status, and to the greater Southwest Washington community as well.

Photos: Clark College/Jenny Shadley


Honoring Those Who Fell, Supporting Those Who Served

Veterans Resource Center ribbon-cutting

Members of the 142nd Wing of the Portland Air National Guard formed the color guard that opened the Veterans Resource Center ribbon-cutting event on May 22.

On May 22, the Thursday before Memorial Day, Clark College hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its recently opened Veterans Resource Center (VRC). The event began with a color guard and the singing of the National Anthem by student Petya Grozeva. VRC Coordinator Kurt Kolch introduced the event by reminding guests that unlike Veterans Day, which honors those among us who have served in the military, Memorial Day is a day to remember those men and women who died while serving.

Physics professor Dick Shamrell, a 25-year Air Force veteran, spoke about how veterans resource centers like Clark’s helped him and his wife to succeed at second careers outside of the military. He also described how his military experience enriches his teaching–when asked by a student what the speed of sound was, for example, he can accurately describe what is is like to go twice that speed.

20140522_3305A ceremonial ribbon to the VRC’s doorway was cut by Clark College President Bob Knight, student veteran Alex Peraza, VRC donor Jane Hagelstein and Jennifer Rhoads, president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, which contributed $30,000 toward the VRC in November. The Vancouver Barracks Historical Society provided military uniforms and maps relevant to the region for guests to view.

Peraza, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served as an infantryman in Iraq, is in his second year at Clark pursuing a Associate of Applied Technology degree in electrical engineering; after graduating from Clark, he plans to pursue his bachelor’s degree at Washington State University Vancouver. A single father of three children, he said he is motivated to continue his studies “not only by my children’s needs, but by my nation’s needs,” citing President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address that connected the country’s success to an increase in graduates from fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“The people at the Veteran Resource Center at Clark College are the reason why I have been so successful in the past and moving forward,” Peraza added. “From [Veterans Affairs Program Specialist] Mike Gibson to [VetCorps Navigator] Tim McPharlin, as well as supporting staff, all have helped me navigate the hurdles and obstacles of being a student veteran.”

Approximately 700 veterans enroll at Clark College every quarter, about 500 of whom use GI Bill benefits to help pay for tuition, fees, housing, books and supplies.

More photos from the event at our Flickr page.

Video: Clark College/Nick Bremer Korb
Photos: Clark College/Jenny Shadley