Apr 20, 2017 - By Ike Fredregill, For the Associated PressLARAMIE (AP) -- When it comes to gear heads, WyoTech Laramie Campus director Caleb Perriton said military veterans are highly sought after in the automotive industry.
"Student veterans have always been a fabric of our campus," Perriton said. "We're dealing with an industry that has a large skills gap, so for many of our veterans it's a natural place in education for them to master a trade and get into a career path."
Because several military jobs focus on mechanical skills, most veterans come to the school with a basic skill set that can be fine-tuned to the student's desires.
The school's efforts haven't gone unnoticed.
WyoTech was recognized as one of the nation's most military friendly private vocational schools by Victory Media on April 3. And in 2016, the school earned accreditation from the U.S. Military Educators Association, Perriton said.
"We wanted to always make sure (WyoTech) was very veteran friendly," Perriton said. "They make such great students, such great technicians, and they set a really high standard for the others to go out and follow."
While many post-secondary schools in Wyoming lack a staff dedicated to helping veterans, Perriton said WyoTech not only has a team dedicated solely to recruiting veterans from across the nation, but once the veterans arrive on campus, there are several programs focused on providing them with an education tailored to their needs.
"We do a full student orientation, which the veterans will be part of," WyoTech Director of Student Success Kyle Morris said. "Then, the veterans will break out to a different session for just the student veterans."
From the get-go, student veterans receive a special orientation to acquaint them with the veteran-focused programs, services and groups WyoTech offers as well as introducing the students to veteran organizations around Laramie such as Project Healing Waters, Morris said.
"We have four separate counsellors and specialists that have office hours on campus, so that students don't have to drive to Cheyenne or drive across town for Telehealth (a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mobile heath care service)," Morris said.
The specialists also help student veterans navigate the Veterans Affairs administrative system.
"Dealing with the VA can be a real pain in the butt sometimes -- (the Cheyenne) VA (Medical Center) in particular," said Josh Cushman, a recent WyoTech graduate and U.S. Navy veteran. "But every time I've gone there, it's been awesome because the (WyoTech) counsellor helps coordinate."
After seeing an ad for WyoTech on TV, Cushman said he decided to scout out the school before inquiring about becoming a student.
Editor's note: Ike Fredregill writes for the Laramie Boomerang.
"I didn't rush it," he said. "I don't rush anything. The military taught me that."
Instead, he found work with a mine reclamation company and moved up from New Mexico in 2014. Before long, he said he was hanging around with WyoTech students and talking cars, so it seemed like it was the right place to be.
"It's kind of weird coming out of the military where you had that brotherhood to rely on," Cushman said.
Stepping into the civilian world and losing that connection was a shock, but he said he found a kindred among the other student veterans, which helped him transition into his new life.
Incentives earned in the military have a well-documented history of user difficulty, but Cushman said the WyoTech administrators were more than apt at navigating the red tape.
"I thought it was going to be difficult using the GI Bill and all," Cushman said. "But the office people took care of most of the footwork for you."
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