UWF in the Community

UWF assists local military with Hometown Heroes program

By Josh Newby, University Communications

The University of West Florida has implemented a program to assist local military veterans with tuition fees for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. This program is especially helpful to those who have exhausted funds from the GI Bill® or veterans’ benefits, but still wish to continue their education.

The program, Hometown Heroes, began in spring 2011 and has already enrolled 26 veterans seeking degrees and/or certificate completions. Although book fees are not paid for, the price of tuition is completely covered by the university.

Hometown Heroes currently offers 51 undergraduate programs, 50 graduate programs and more than 110 specializations. Traditional, on-campus classes are available, as well as completely online programs for distance learners.

“We’ve recently been recognized as a top military-friendly institution,” said Pam Northrup, interim dean at UWF’s College of Professional Studies. “We’re very proud of that. One of the reasons we were recognized is our innovation in distance learning and delivery.”

The program is scheduled to continue through the summer of 2012, and Hometown Heroes is projecting it will provide scholarships to 45 degree-seeking veterans in that time.

“Without the support of the Hometown Heroes program, I would have probably run out of time and funding in pursuit of my degree using the VA benefits,” said Robert Barkley, a participant in the program and Air Transportation Operations Specialist at Hurlburt Field.

“The program has offered me the opportunity to return to school later in life to pursue higher education that I would not have otherwise been able to do,” said Denise Gunn, an FBI agent in Pensacola. “I will be retiring from my current career in the near future and having a master’s degree should greatly improve my marketability for a second career in education.”

While in the program, participants also receive counseling, educational and financial assistance, relocation guidance, as well as comprehensive employment planning and placement assistance with follow-up mentoring. This branch of the program, Hometown Heroes Reach Out, assists each candidate in meeting educational and professional requirements for employment.

Marc Churchwell is a mentor for the program and reaches out to participants regularly.

“I provide mentoring while they are in the program,” said Churchwell. “I contact them every three to four weeks to provide assistance if they are having some sort of difficulty.”

Gunn is thankful for the assistance that the university provides and sees it as a great opportunity to show veterans that their services are appreciated.

“I am grateful for this opportunity, and I believe it is especially important to offer services such as this for combat veterans,” said Gunn. “I know the military community is appreciative for all the support offered, educational and otherwise. The establishment and outreach of the program lets those families know how much their community appreciates them.”