President Sidney McPhee speaks with attendees Nov. 14, 2012, during VetSuccess celebration at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU News)
Military veterans Jordan McCall and Malcolm Stallard were stunned when someone they never had met recognized them publicly.
In honoring them for assisting with the first-year VetSuccess on Campus program at Middle Tennessee State University, Ruth Fanning presented them with a commemorative coin, concealing it before making the exchange during a handshake.
Fanning, director of Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., attended a Nov. 14 open house to celebrate the opening of the MTSU Military Center and VetSuccess office in the Keathley University Center.
“These two young men represent our future and the future looks great,” Fanning said of McCall, a senior from Murfreesboro, and Stallard, a freshman from Kingsport, Tenn. “These two veteran students have stepped up and wanted to be a part of honoring other veterans.”
McCall and Stallard, who are VetSuccess on Campus student workers, said they were taken back by the tribute.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m honored to get it,” McCall said. “I understand what it was all for. She gave it (the coin) to me and Malcolm for our work in getting it (the office) up and off the ground.”
“I find it an honor that our simple helping out — people view us as more than a helper — all we’re doing is helping another veteran,” Stallard said.
Fanning also had words of praise for the university’s leadership, led by President Sidney A. McPhee. She also acknowledged registrar Cathy Kirchner, Tony Johnston, chair of the Military Services Affairs committee and faculty member, as well as Heather Conrad, the VetSuccess counselor.
“Your passion has led to the start of this program,” Fanning said, “and you are helping them (veterans) succeed in every step of the way.”
The VetSuccess office, now one of about 23 nationwide, provides veterans with a more supportive campus environment and easier access to benefits such as academic advice, financial aid, career counseling and peer support.
McPhee commended the “tremendous support by faculty and staff and other individuals in paying attention to how very important it is to help the men and women who serve, sacrifice and give their life.”
He said retention and graduation rates for veterans are higher than any other category on campus.
“We have a thousand-plus veterans who are part of our caring campus,” McPhee said. “We have the first VetSuccess program in the state, and we are pleased to have Ms. Conrad and her skills. We will continue to find ways to find support for our veterans.”