Higher Education Opportunities were Highlighted for Veterans and Service Members at 11th Annual Veterans Summit

A group of people standing in a crowd talking with each other.

Vermont State University, Vermont National Guard, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) Highlight Higher Education Opportunities for Veterans and Service Members at 11th Annual Veterans Summit

Vermont National Guard Scholarships and Tuition Benefit Program available to active members.

The 11th Annual Veterans Summit was held on Vermont State University’s Lyndon Campus on Wednesday, June 14. Veterans, military families, and all who care about veteran’s issues. Two-hundred-and thirty people were in attendance. 

“Great things happen at the Summit because veterans, their family members, and stakeholders get together to share valuable information and to support one another,” said Thom Anderson, Vermont State Registrar, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and Veterans Summit organizer. “The exhibitors provide a wide array of services and resources. The speakers and presenters bring fresh insights, expertise, and inspiration. There is something of value for everyone.”

The event featured keynote speaker Robert Bellows, founder of The Warrior StoryField, a collaborative sculpture project with a core mission of exploring what it takes for warriors to come home from war. Bellows is a metal sculptor who has worked as an artist in Longmont, Colorado for more than 45 years. Bellows was accompanied by videographer and U.S. Army veteran John P. Golden. Heather Lafont, a U.S. Navy veteran and alum of Northern Vermont University was the event emcee. Lafont joined the Navy out of high school and served four years on active duty in Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia, before transitioning to the Department of the Navy as a manpower and management analyst for ten years. Lafont is currently pursuing a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with Vermont State.

Breakout sessions explored a variety of topics including a state legislative update on veterans affairs, a Q & A session with a Veterans Affairs representative, best practices for employers looking to hire and work with veterans, and a fun session on tying flies for fly fishing. More than 50 veteran service organizations staffed information tables at this event, offering a one-stop shop for services, clubs, and resources. A complimentary dinner was provided along with a beer tasting by 14th Star Brewing Company.

“As Vermont’s rural public higher education system, we have a strong connection with the National Guard and with service opportunities,” said Mike Smith, interim president of Vermont State University. “On behalf of Vermont State University, we express our profound appreciation to our Veterans and service members,” he continued. Smith served the United States as a member of SEAL Team Two.

Vermont State University joins the State of Vermont in supporting Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program scholarships, which are administered by Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC). The Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program covers tuition at Vermont State University, or up to the in-state tuition rate at UVM or other institutions. Active members of the Vermont National Guard who agree to complete the service requirements of the program may access an interest-free forgivable loan.

“In the 2022-2023 academic year, twenty-one Vermont State University students received this tuition benefit to further their education in fields essential to Vermont’s workforce needs, including nursing, paramedicine, construction management, education, dental hygiene, and criminal justice. These students are entering the Vermont workforce with essential skills and training from their time in the service and are filling critical workforce shortages across the state,” added President Smith.

“We are very proud of our 20 plus year partnership with the Vermont National Guard. The Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program helps individuals access an excellent college education, while simultaneously training to learn critical skills and support our communities. Through our partnership, we are able to support students to achieve higher education while helping create a vibrant, strong, and skilled workforce,” added Scott Giles, President and CEO of Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.

“Service in the Vermont National Guard can provide a service member with a tuition free college experience,” said Col. Tracey Poirier, director of the joint staff, Vermont National Guard. “This benefit can’t be overstated. I hope our Veterans, those currently serving, and future members take advantage of this benefit,” said Poirier.

The Veterans Summit is made possible by the generosity of sponsors, including the Vermont Veterans Fund, Vermont Community Foundation; Keynote Sponsor Casella Waste Systems; Hospitality Sponsor Twin State Ford; Breakout Session Sponsors – New England Air Systems, Northern Counties Health Care, and Vermont Electric Cooperative Community Fund; and additional contributors.

For more information, see VermontState.edu/VeteransSummit.