Two years ago, Frank Wills was brought in to lead KSU’s center.
“We are really the first all-encompassing Veterans Resource Center in Georgia, and I was the first director to be hired to gear support towards the veteran community,” Wills said.
Wills, who himself served in the U.S. Marines and as a soldier with the Army National Guard Reserves, brought to KSU a few lessons he learned at Mississippi State University’s veterans center.
“I’m very passionate about this because I’m a product of the environment. I’ve been there. I’ve gotten out of the military and transitioned out when there wasn’t any help available,” Wills said. “I know how an environment like this is not only helpful but will allow (veteran-students) to be more successful and I want to be able to recreate that.”
About 2,000 current KSU students have served in the military, and the center helps them make connections on campus for issues such as psychological help, tutoring, community assistance and career services.
“We’re a jack-of-all-trades,” Wills said. “We also help them register for classes when they come in, advise them, and give them survival guides for being a student, applying for financial aid and maximizing their abilities to use GI Bill benefits.”
Derek Ridings, 28, has benefitted from the center and now volunteers there. Ridings is a 2002 graduate of McEachern High School in Powder Springs.
He served as a military policeman in the U.S. Army between 2003 and 2008. The American history major intends to graduate next fall.
“I knew about the center here and gradually started participating more after getting comfortable in the school environment,” he said. “I enjoy working in the center and helping other veterans who were in the position that I was in. I want to see that everyone has what they have earned and make it as easy as possible.”
Ridings is also the center’s representative to the Student Government Association.
“We’re setting a precedent,” he said. “There’s nothing else like this in the state and we’re helping other programs start so we can reach a broader group of veterans. We are continuing to invest in the veterans like those did before us … as far as establishing the GI Bill. Each generation is having their opportunity to help veterans.”
Raeanna Duck, 31, a sophomore at KSU, started using the center this fall. The Marietta native served as an Army combat medic in Hawaii for four years.
Duck said the center has been great about walking her through everything she needed to excel as a KSU student.
“Coming from the military, it was a daunting thought to start this process and they made it a painless experience, all the way to the point of actually walking me to the offices I need to be at to turn in paperwork,” she said. “I’ve received nothing but on-point information since I’ve been working with them.”
She also hopes that she too can someday work at the center.
“It’s more special when I can help someone like me get through the process,” she said. “KSU is a welcoming environment anyways but having a group of people like ourselves makes it even more so.”