Publisher's note: The author of this post, Crystal Baity, is a contributor to ECU News Services.
ECU Army and Air Force ROTC cadets conduct the posting of the colors at the paver dedication ceremony. | Photo: Cliff Hollis
Helping student veterans succeed is the goal of two recent donations to East Carolina University.
As of fall 2019, more than 860 student veterans and almost 700 military dependents were enrolled at ECU.
Now, two gifts totaling $350,000 will help the Student Veteran Services
(SVS) office in the ECU Division of Student Affairs.
SVS helps facilitate service members' transition from the military to university life. From navigating federal VA benefits to connecting with resources on campus and in the community, SVS aims to ensure student veterans have a positive experience at ECU.
The Masons recently contributed to provide two annual Warrior Scholar student scholarships, a scholarship endowment and to fully fund the Veteran to Scholar Bridge Program, which helps ease veterans' transition to campus life and coursework before classes start. (Contributed photo)
One of the gifts will fully fund the ECU Veteran to Scholar Bridge Program, which helps ease veterans' transition to campus life and coursework before classes start. Mason (who goes by one name) and his wife Kim Mason of Fort Worth, Texas, pledged $250,000 over five years for the bridge program, as well as two annually funded Warrior Scholar student scholarships and a scholarship endowment.
"Our purpose is to give a hand up and not a handout,"
Mason said. "As business owners, military service proved to be a key indicator of loyalty, dependability, dedication and accountability when searching and selecting team members. Our hope is that the grant helps ease the pain and aids veterans in continuing their formal education."
Mason served in the Marine Corps from 1974 to 1978 before earning a degree in business administration from ECU. He said he passed the CPA exam on his first sitting because of the dedication of ECU faculty members.
"I will always be thankful for the sincere interest that all of the professors and staff took in my journey,"
Mason said. "My education at ECU was a major factor in business success, almost as important in partnering with my wife, which has provided the means to fund the veterans grant."
Mason's father served in the Navy, his uncle served in the Marine Corps, and Kim's father served in the Army. "My wife and I both believe that more needs to be done and can be done to support those that have volunteered to serve this great country,"
Mason said. "We personally wanted to give back in some way that directly supports our veterans."
ECU ROTC cadets stand with Dr. Anisa Zvonkovic, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, where ROTC programs are housed, and Dr. Betty Beacham, second from right, who recently contributed funds to support students. (Contributed photo)
Dr. Betty Beacham of Greenville recently gave $100,000 to name the SVS lounge in Mendenhall Student Center and to support scholarships and programs for veterans.
Beacham has spent 25 years at ECU, where she has been engaged in service and outreach to eastern North Carolina as director of the STEM-Corps East and Teacher Quality Partnership programs. She has developed and managed AmeriCorps and VISTA programs to provide tutoring and mentoring for K-12 students in the region.
"This commitment to service also defines my personal life,"
Beacham said. "It was a natural next step for me to support our ROTC and student veterans by providing educational scholarships. Being able to help our students in this way is very rewarding."
For SVS, the donations will provide much-needed scholarships and resources for student veterans.
"Opportunities for scholarships are an incredibly important feature of a military-friendly university,"
said Nicole Jablonski, associate director of SVS. "Scholarships diminish the need for students to take out loans and help ensure they finish the degree they wish to complete."
Ben Byma, back, and Steven Wimmer participate in Storm the Stadium on March 7.
(Photo by Rhett Butler)
At ECU, many veterans transfer their post 9/11 benefits to their spouse or children, leaving the veteran to cover the cost of college with loans and other sources of funding, Jablonski said. Some have used their benefits at other schools or change majors, meaning they run out of benefits before finishing their degree, forcing them to take out loans or leave school before graduating. Also, student veterans are often older and have families, mortgages, car payments and other responsibilities. While post 9/11 benefits are generous, some veterans at ECU have to take out loans to bridge the gap between what the benefit pays and household expenses, she said.
To raise funds for scholarships and programs, SVS hosted the fifth annual Storm the Stadium event on Saturday. About 180 competitors walked or ran 3,200 stairs in the lower bowl of ECU's football stadium, making the event one of the longest stair climbing challenges in eastern North Carolina.
Kirk Little '82, chair of the student affairs advancement council and an Air Force veteran, recently donated an Xbox game system to the SVS office.