Penn State’s veterans and service members will soon have a new space devoted to them and their needs on the University Park campus.
The west wing of the first floor of Ritenour Building — about 6,300 square feet of space — will be repurposed and renovated into a new Student Veteran Center. That work is slated to begin in January. The $4 million Student Veteran Center project includes space for the Office of Veterans Programs and Office of Veterans Affairs and Services, a lounge and a study area.
Construction is projected to be complete in fall 2019.
“Penn State is really committed to the veteran and military communities,” Col. Eugene McFeely, senior director of Veterans Affairs and Services, said. The center is “just another great outward sign” of that commitment.
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In fact, when McFeely started in his position at Penn State about two years ago, he said that President Eric Barron told him his “first priority” would be getting the Student Veteran Center up and running.
The idea is to bring all of the veterans’ services and programming into one place. McFeely, who served in the United States Air Force for 27 years, said that if student veterans are stopping by to study or spend time in the lounge, the proximity to the other services mean they’ll be more likely to take advantage of them.
That “marriage” between the programs and services piece and lounge and study area piece helps to build an environment where more peer-to-peer interaction can take place, McFeely said. Ultimately, peer-to-peer programs are more successful because student veterans are more comfortable with people in their peer group and have had similar experiences.
In addition, the new center will provide a lot of opportunities to start or expand programming, he said.
It’ll be used as a “magnet for engagement” for the veterans, McFeely said.
“It’s going to be a really nice space when we’re done with it. I’m really excited about it, and I think for the student veterans it’s going to be a great thing to have,” he said.
McFeely said there are about 900 military connected students — actively serving, veterans or dependents of veterans — at the University Park campus. Out of that group, about 500 are veterans.
And the idea isn’t to “segregate” student veterans, he said, but rather to give them a space where they can go if they want to touch base with “like-minded folks.”
“Ideally, ... we want to help (the student veterans) with their transition into the university. We want them to immerse themselves in the student body, doing stuff with all the non student veterans out there,” McFeely said. “And then when it’s time to transition into the next thing, come back and we’ll give you whatever help we can from the service perspective there. But at the end of the day, even though that’s my ideal vision for how I want the student veterans to kind of engage, (the center) will always be there for any other time of need.”
The university has committed $2 million to the Student Veteran Center project, he said, and the rest will need to be fundraised.
“We currently do have some donors, but we still have a ways to go before we meet our goal,” McFeely said.
There are naming opportunities, including the whole center for $2 million or various rooms in the space.
To donate, contact Kim Neely, director of development for Parent Philanthropy and University Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-6533.