Southwestern Michigan College looks to extend ‘gold-level status’ in veteran service

Southwestern Michigan College received gold-level status from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) as a Veteran-Friendly School (VFS) for the 2023-24 school year, and looks to extend its status for 2024-25.

The VFS program recognizes higher education institutions that go above and beyond to support veterans and students with military connections. Veterans Affairs recognized 62 universities, colleges and trade schools as VFSs for the 2023-24 school year, of which 47 achieved gold status.

Melanie McGee traces her affinity for serving veterans to her grandfather, Louis Richmond.

McGee’s diligence as Southwestern Michigan College student records specialist and SCO, or veteran school certifying officer, last summer clinched SMC gold-level status as a VFS. She is getting ready to submit the annual application to continue the gold designation for 2024-25. The ranking for the VFS program originated in 2015-16 and involves meeting six criteria.

McGee joined SMC in October 2021 and made it her mission to go for gold, just like Mr. Richmond as Cass County Veterans Affairs service officer in the 1980s-’90s.

SMC provides specialized admissions advising by staff trained to help veterans make the most of their VA benefits. These benefits include paying in-district tuition rates, early registration, and access to the Fred L. Mathews Library’s Veterans Lounge, where vets can study, relax, and connect..

“We serve the people who served our country,” McGee said. “We do the best we can to make sure they succeed outside the military. I want to be the best I can at my job and do the best that I can for them. It’s maybe 30 percent of my time, depending on the time of year. Fall and spring registrations are the busiest times.

“Veterans are a significant part of our culture, and to have someone specifically assigned to them matters a lot. A lot choose their schools on the level and reputation. I’ve had multiple people come because they’ve heard that I would go out of my way to try to help them. I have veterans I deal with by phone or through email that I will never meet in person.”