February 23, 2014 Updated: February 23, 2014 at 8:45 am
The 25 percent of Pikes Peak Community College students who are veterans, active military or military family members have a new Military and Veterans Center of Excellence at the college's Centennial campus near Fort Carson.
While temperatures outside the newly remodeled facility hovered around zero, Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton and Fort Carson garrison commander Col. David Grosso thanked more than 40 comfortably warm college faculty and staff and local supporters Feb. 6 during the center's grand opening.
Cheri Arfsten, the college's director of military and veterans programs, said the new center will allow academic advising, administrative support and peer tutoring for the college's nearly 4,000 military and veteran students.
She said the facility will also provide greater access to counselors and staff, a dedicated meeting space for a growing Student Veterans of America Club, an expanded computer lab, a quiet study area and a lounge with seating.
"I see this as a safe place where vets can talk with fellow vets," Arfsten said.
Bolton said that since 2011, when he was appointed president, the college has boomed.
"We grew tremendously during the recession here," Bolton said.
He said PPCC has grown by nearly 50 percent to 22,000 students since 2006, creating a high demand for available space. And there has been a rise in military students at the college, thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The college's military program facilities needed a change, he said.
Bolton said that as the college's leader, it was his goal to identify what was the most effective use of the available space, and once he heard the challenges faced by the college's military students, his decision was clear.
"I knew immediately that this was the best and highest use of the space," Bolton said.
Benjamin Kaufman transitioned from the Army to civilian life in 2011. As a trained peer navigator with AspenPointe, he hopes to help give direction to student veterans.
"My goal is to sit down with them (the service member) and identify what goals they are going to need," Kaufman said.
Coming soon to the newly remodeled space, Arfsten said, additional resources for students will be put into place within the year. This includes visiting agencies such as Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation, as well as a Vet Success Program with a full-time Veterans Affairs employee to assist students with benefits not related to college.