By Mike Strasser, Staff WriterNovember 23, 2016
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Officials from Fort Drum and Jefferson Community College gathered Thursday at the Commons to celebrate 30 years of academic excellence, milestones and memories.
It has been three decades since Jefferson Community College conducted its first academic course at Fort Drum, with 17 Soldiers in attendance. This fall, there are 228 Soldiers enrolled in JCC classes at Fort Drum, on campus or online for 1,545 credits with more than $175,000 in tuition assistance funding.
Col. Bryan Laske, Fort Drum garrison commander, said that JCC has been a stalwart supporter of this installation, and he has been impressed with how well it continues to meet the needs of the post community.
"The value that comes from that, in terms of providing the Army with adaptive and reactive leadership, and through its ability to provide resilient Families that can cope and have the life skills to succeed in society, that can't be measured," he said.
"That contribution to this installation is just amazing, and it's something we are very thankful for," Laske added.
In 1986, Jefferson Community College became a member of Servicemembers Opportunity College, or SOC, to provide quality services to military students. JCC was among more than 200 colleges and universities to agree to the set policies and requirements of the Servicemembers Opportunity College Army Degree that allowed Soldiers to establish a "home college" at their duty station. The SOCAD guaranteed course transferability even when a Soldier changes duty station.
Since then, JCC has continued to adapt and expand its programs for Soldiers, veterans and Family Members. When the Army launched its eArmyU program in 2003, it enabled service members to further their education while stationed anywhere in the world. JCC was selected as one of six community colleges to participate in the pilot. In 2006, eArmyU became the GoArmyEd program and expanded its service to all active-duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, cadets and DA Civilians.
"GoArmyEd has made it easier for Soldiers to access Army tuition assistance funding, and Jefferson continues to be a key academic partner in this program," said Donald Johnson, JCC director of military programs.
"That's the thing that made Jefferson Community College successful," said Joseph Agresti, Fort Drum's education services officer. "They were 'the little college that could.' They saw what they needed to do, and they could. And suddenly, it became our community college. Our Soldiers go there, their Families go there, our kids go there, because it is a great place to start your education."
Edward Smalls, a former Soldier from 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, was an early benefactor of the Fort Drum-JCC partnership, and he attended the celebration to talk about his experience. In the late '80s, Fort Drum commanders requested special unit courses in brigade, battalion or company classrooms that meshed with the units' training schedules. Smalls was among the Soldiers from 1st Brigade who began the first education cycle in 1991.
Smalls earned an associate degree from JCC, and he said that he found community college to be unique because it didn't have the stressors that he would experience later at four-year colleges.
"I graduated from JCC, which was an amazing feat for me because I never expected to be where I was," he said. "The atmosphere feels different at a community college. It kind of feels like home."
Carole McCoy, JCC president, said it is impossible to imagine the college without the Soldiers and Family Members of Fort Drum.
"About 40 percent of our student body comes from Fort Drum," she said. "Of that 40 percent, about 550 students this semester are veterans, and that is just a very significant number. Soldier-students and their Family Members are in every single program of study that we offer, and (they) take a lot of courses on our main campus as well as right here on post."
McCoy said that many Soldiers are active in JCC clubs and extracurricular activities. She recalled the first time she saw a student group working together where several of them wore Army uniforms, and she commented on how striking that appeared. It has since become commonplace.
"All of our Fort Drum students enrich our learning environment, and they enrich the lives of their fellow students as well as faculty and staff," McCoy said.
She said that it is rewarding to hear of the success stories coming out of Fort Drum, not only of the Soldiers who have furthered their careers, but also the Family Members who have thrived from the educational opportunities.
"The thing I really take a tremendous amount of satisfaction from is the number of Family Members who tell us about how the college became their family, particularly when their loved one was deployed," McCoy said. "Their time at the college with friends, classmates and professors just became so much more meaningful and important to them."
Smalls experienced those bonds McCoy spoke of when he was a student, but now he sees them every day as a full-time JCC faculty member.
"I see them bonding in the classroom, meeting each other after class, and I see these relationships being built," he said. "That's the environment that JCC fosters. It's great to see young Soldiers going to class, because that shows that leadership cares. I got that incentive and I got that push, and I don't know where I would be today if I didn't get that push.
"Fort Drum made me the man I needed to be, and JCC gave me the education I needed to succeed in life."