By Mr. Gustavo Bahena (Irwin)November 8, 2013
FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- "We just wanted to give back and say thanks," said Kenyetta Grayer, president of the Associated Student Government of Barstow Community College.
That sentiment was part of the festive atmosphere during the "Student Thanksgiving Mixer" at the Barstow Community College satellite campus on Fort Irwin, Nov. 7. Sandwiches, snacks, beverages and pumpkin pie was served to attendees of the social, while music played from a boom box.
Elected members of the college's ASG hosted the event for Soldiers, who are students of the college that has a significant presence on this military installation. The college's location on post, building 285, instructs about 200 students per night, said Jerry Peters, director of military programs for BCC. Overall, the college enrolls approximately 800 active duty Soldiers.
Grayer said that it is important for the ASG to support and thank Soldiers for the struggles they go through and the time they spend away from family ensuring that the country is safe. The ASG wants to remind Soldiers they are not forgotten, regardless of the distance from the main college site in Barstow. The aspirations for all students of the college are similar, she said.
"We want to see each other succeed," Grayer said. "No matter what your goal is, we have one common thing -- and that's success in education."
One Soldier who is striving for that goal is Spc. Victor Rodriguez, an infantry Soldier and team leader with B Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The Texas native is serving his first tour at the National Training Center and has jumped at the opportunity to begin his higher education at BCC. He's enrolled in developmental psychology at the Fort Irwin site and is interested in eventually completing a degree in criminal justice. He said he's glad to be studying and is appreciative of the pleasant environment at the school.
"I love school," Rodriguez said. "It's a very friendly environment. I come in and everyone is always welcoming me with smiles or handshakes -- it's very friendly."
Rodriguez is taking advantage of Desert University, which is the NTC commanding general's policy for allowing Soldiers to take courses, during mission times, with command approval.
"My chain of command is very supportive," Rodriguez said.
Leadership from BCC is similarly supportive of the collaboration between BCC and the military installation. The college's president and superintendent, Dr. Deborah DiThomas, said she was very interested in the partnership when she arrived in July to take the helm at the school.
"The military at Fort Irwin -- their commitment to the education of their Soldiers is phenomenal," DiThomas said, after having served pie with whipped cream to Soldiers. "Desert University is such a unique program and such a huge advantage for the Soldiers, who are stationed here, that we want to help them make the most of that advantage. It's a huge commitment for them to make and we want to make sure that we help the Soldiers take advantage of it."
DiThomas said one of the college's goals is to provide an opportunity for students to complete an associate's while serving at the NTC and Fort Irwin.
"We have a real commitment to the Soldiers, who come here leaving with a degree -- if they don't already have one" DiThomas said. "We have a more comprehensive approach to our education -- a two year plan, because the Soldiers are usually here two to three years. So, we want them to be able to complete their degree while they're here, and we want to offer courses in a sequence, so they can do that."
Staff Sgt. Cleveland Burns, a career counselor with United States Army Department Activity, here, is close to finishing his degree in business management. He plans to walk the graduation stage next June. He recommends it to Soldiers stationed here.
"It's a great time, when you come to Fort Irwin, to actually get your degree and continue on with furthering your education," Burns said.
Burns said it was a fine gesture by the ASG to host the party.
"A lot of Soldiers … they just want to know that someone's thinking of them," Burns said. "When I walked in here, they told me not to walk out without getting some food. And I have my plate right there!"
You too can be part of the fun at BCC. On Fort Irwin, classes are offered beginning at 11:30 a.m. and conclude at 10 p.m., Peters said. The college also offers courses scheduled around the rotational training calendar, which outlines the dates when visiting brigades are here for training. Those classes are offered on Sundays and always fill up, he said. The college also offers an extensive choice of online courses.
Junior-ranking, active duty servicemembers can attend almost cost-free. Maree Schlickenrieder, education services officer at Fort Irwin, explained that Soldiers in pay grades E-5 or lower, usually qualify for a California grant and a federal Pell grant. The grants cover all of the tuition and book expenses.
According to the college's Web site, degrees are offered in the following fields: humanities, social science, sociology, psychology, natural science/math, and an associate of science in a variety of occupational majors. Some of the certificate programs offered include: administration of justice, automotive technology, business information systems in office services, electronics technology, information systems management, management, photography, welding, family day care, manicuring, and network administrator.