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For military veterans, colleges can ease the way to civilian life

Christopher Bonaccolta at work in Middlesex Community College’s Veterans Resource Center in Bedford.Handout

Karen Connick’s role at Quincy College’ fits like a glove. The retired colonel spends her days helping students navigate the distance between service life and student life.

Her efforts have helped the college receive a gold rating from Military Friendly, a Pennsylvania-based company that ranks schools around the country based on how well they support veterans in their transition to civilian life.

“I just retired from 30 years in the Army,” said Connick, the college’s military and veterans’ services specialist. “A lot of the big mystery sometimes is just navigating the paperwork for a lot of the young men and women coming out of the service. It’s come in so handy to speak the same language, so to speak, with the [Department of Veterans Affairs].”

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Quincy College, which has about 250 veterans enrolled, is the only Massachusetts school to make Military Friendly’s top 10 lists for 2018-2019. In all, 24 colleges in the state received ratings, including Massachusetts Bay Community College and Bunker Hill Community College, which earned silver, and Middlesex Community College and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which earned bronze.

The founders of Military Friendly are Navy veterans who noticed the lack of support available to men and women leaving military service. In 2003 they launched their survey, which now contacts more than 8,800 institutions and ranks them based on student retention, graduation rates, job placement, and participation in programs such as the VA’s Principal of Excellence and Veteran Success on Campus Program.

Timothy Quinn, coordinator of the Veterans Resource Center at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, said his role is to ease the transition of “battle-hardened” veterans into the role of college students. This is no easy feat.

“In the post-9/11 world,” he said, “a lot of veterans are coming back with PTSD, mental ailments, traumatic brain injuries.”

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Middlesex, which also has a campus in Lowell, aids more than 300 veterans with programs such as yoga classes, meditation sessions, acupuncture, and other services to help with post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep, migraines, and focus.

Another program for veterans is smoking cessation, Quinn said. Many veterans smoked while in the service, and the stress of becoming a student and civilian can worsen the habit.

The school’s office of disability support services also works hand-in-hand with the veterans resource center. Alerting professors of special circumstances can help smooth class time for veterans. A morning class might become burdensome for a veteran with migraines. Sunglasses — which are usually not permitted in the classroom — can help the veteran evade the head-splitting pain.

The question of when to begin is answered at Quincy College: When you are ready.

The school has courses that begin every month, with rolling admissions. This flexibility allows veterans to figure out “that work-life balance, or that family-life balance,” said Taggart Boyle, associate vice president of marketing and communications at the college.

If a veteran enrolls and has trouble adjusting, Connick can help. The office offers counseling sessions with “student success coaches,” she said, “for anyone who is hitting a bump . . . when life gets in the way.”

Beginning this month, the college will offer the two most popular degrees among veterans — criminal justice and business — completely online.

Johnathan Zepeda, a 22-year-old veteran who left Coast Guard service this year, has started taking classes for a degree in English at Quincy College. He said veterans can enrich a campus.

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“They have a different outlook on life,” Zepeda said, “a different approach to the way that they do things. Most, they have drive to succeed and be outstanding in their community.”

For more information about Quincy College’s programs for veterans, e-mail Karen Connick at kconnick@quincycollege.edu or call 617-405-5928. For more information about Middlesex Community College’s program, e-mail Timothy Quinn at quinnt@middlesex.mass.edu or call 781-280-3510. For more information about Military Friendly schools in your area, visit www.militaryfriendly.com/schools.


Cynthia Fernandez can be reached at cynthia.fernandez@globe.com.