Army retiree takes over military student success position at Fort Hays State

03/26/12 kb

HAYS, Kan. -- Prospective military and veteran students at Fort Hays State University now have one of their own as their main contact.

Todd Churchill, military success specialist for FHSU's Virtual College, spent 22 years in the U.S. Army, retiring three years ago as a sergeant first class. He was serving at Fort Knox, Ky., as a medical recruiter when he retired. His military service took him to 18 countries. Churchill's son is a second lieutenant in the National Guard in Manhattan, Kan.

Fort Knox also happens to be where he went to basic training and advanced individual training. He worked as the general manager for Pepsico, Hays, after leaving the Army.

He saw the Virtual College job posted on the Internet. "I wanted to come back and start working with military people and pay back some of what they gave me," he said.

A big part of his job is helping individual soldiers to load their lesson plans on and help them with other problems as well.

On his rolls are 64 on-campus military students and 527 virtual, mostly, he said, still on active duty. National Guard, active duty Army and Navy personnel make up the bulk.

Every day brings different problems. One is loading degree plans on the GoArmyEd portal. Even their physical fitness training can be credited as an elective, he said, and much of their military specialist training and any classes taken at other colleges can be transferred. Once all that is determined, the trooper, working with the Virtual College and Churchill, can line out a course of study and a degree program. Then, once the military records are translated into a transcript and the course of study is lined out and students begin taking classes, they can get their military benefits.

Churchill has to accept their applications in addition totheir commanding officers. This results in a statement of understanding, an SOU,and the soldier can begin receiving tuition assistance.

He checks all the military websites every day to find students who have chosen FHSU. The Army is the only service that has a dedicated website.

"I wish the whole Department of Defense would go to that," he said. "It would make it a lot easier."

"It shows they are taking courses, have a degree plan and are sticking with it, " he said. "And each one is going to be different," said Churchill.

Military students work through the Army-American Council of Education Registry and the Sailor-Marine American Council on Education Registry to convert their military training into an FHSU transcript.

"We post it for Army students," said Churchill."Sailors," who have to work through a different system, "have to post their own."

He also recruits students. His recruiting itinerary for October included Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas. He will eventually visit all National Guard units in Kansas. Salina was Oct. 16, where he conducted training to tell troops of their benefits, how to register in the GoArmyEd portal. The National Guard is just now switching to the GoArmyEd system, he said.

October's trips were his first since starting the position of military student success specialist on July 25. He said he needed to get acclimated in the position before going out to military bases. Now, he said, the job is "really starting to come together."

In Salina, he talked to all the incoming Guard troops about tuition assistance, then he went to Texas for the rest of the week, first to Abilene and then to San Angelo. In all, he saw about 500 soldiers.

"There were quite a few questions about what we have to offer, about the Virtual College and if they transferred up here could they go to the campus, different things like that. The biggest concern that most of them have is cost per semester hour," he said. "What their tuition assistance covers is cost per semester hour. That means just the tuition."

Once military personnel are discharged, they can still get GI Bill education benefits, but while they are on active duty, they get tuition assistance to go to school.

"And that's changed even since I got out three years ago." Assistance since his own retirement has gone up from 75 percent of tuition cost up to 100 percent, up to $250 per credit hour. FHSU VirtualCollege tuition and fees this year are $174 per credit hour.

At Goodfellow and Dyess, the settings were educational fairs where Churchill manned an FHSU booth. "The kids come up and ask questions and you answer each one of them as they come." Forty-two institutions were represented at each base.

"With Todd bringing all his military experience, he gives another resource to go out and visit with service members," said Dennis King, director of the Virtual College and learning technologies. "His years in the military bring our level of awareness and opportunities up to a whole new level."

He knows what the challenges are for active duty military students, said King. He can relate to their family responsibilities, being on call, being on duty and trying to get an education at the same time.

"His background and experience are going to be vital to our continued growth and to our support of service members," said King.

He is also actively involved with on-campus veterans. He helped them found, and acts as advisor for, a new student organization, the Student Veterans Association, which received final approval in October.

The student group began by accident when he met a woman from the Student Veterans of America. When she asked if FHSU has a student veterans organization, Churchill realized that FHSU did not. The new Student Veterans Association will be a chapter of the national organization.

"It is the first one Fort Hays State has ever had, as far as anyone can remember," he said. "Those men and women are very interested in helping all the veterans who come to school here. They come froma highly structured environment," he said. "They need some help getting settled."

The SVA's president is Mason Rohleder, Gorham senior, a National Guard veteran. Vice President Bryan Vroom, Salina freshman, is an AirForce veteran. Treasurer Michelle Sack, a National Guard vet, is a Haysfreshman, and Secretary Donna Martin, Red Cloud, Neb., junior, is a Navy vet.

Churchill's contact informationis, 785-628-5541.

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