Ian McCallister and members of the college's Troops and Students Connect (TASC) Force.
Many veterans returning to school for a degree or to obtain new skills choose Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) because of the tremendous support they receive in transitioning from active duty to civilian life.
Ian McCallister, a student-veteran and former president of the college's Troops and Students Connect (TASC) Force, said he formed deep bonds with fellow veterans while earning his two-year degree at FSW.
Formerly known as the A.C.E. Club, students changed the club's name to TASC and opened up membership to also include those who support veterans like family and friends. They have reached out to many FSW student-veterans.
"FSW helped me personally transition into being a student and spending time with others who were also transitioning made the process easier," says McCallister. "It's great to see what veterans are capable of doing and one of our missions in the TASC Force is to do community outreach, volunteering for Hearts and Homes for Veterans and the American Legion."
While on two tours in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, McCallister served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, traveling to distant villages across the country to set up and tear down medical clinics. He later became interested in international issues and sustainability as a result of the work he did in the Army.
"I'm a green guy and I want to do more work in sustainable energy," he explains, specifically citing disaster relief and working with local populations to build more energy efficient homes.
McCallister finished his two-year degree at FSW last fall and transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) to study environmental engineering. His FSW classes in science, mathematics and pre-engineering helped prepare him for the rigorous bachelor's degree program at FGCU, and starting at the college gave him time to mentally prepare and transition.
For those discharged military personnel embarking on a new degree, he says "FSW is the best place for any veteran coming back."
With a two-year degree a veteran can transfer to a university or enter one of FSW's workforce-based bachelor's programs.
Connections made between veterans at FSW aren't limited by age or service. Dale Riggs, president of the Korean War Veterans Association of Southwest Florida, met McCallister on the Thomas Edison (Lee) Campus last fall while making the group's latest contribution to a scholarship endowment they founded. Established only two years earlier, under the leadership of KWVA Treasurer Bob Kent, the endowment for veterans is now valued at over $20,000.
Riggs and McCallister reminisced about their respective experiences in the service and stumbled across other details each held in common. Joining the Army was a family tradition in McCallister's family and when he was a boy his father served at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, South Korea. Sixty years earlier, during the Korean War, Riggs was stationed at the very same base. They spoke fondly of Camp Casey, discussing what still stood today and what had been changed over the years, and they even discovered how each performed the same job in the Army.
"Ian saw my combat medical badge and brought up how he had served in the medical corps too," says Riggs, who was a combat medic and ambulance driver. "It really proves how connected veterans are no matter when or where they served. That's why our group gives back to younger veterans."
On average, FSW serves 400 student-veterans each year. The college was also one of the first in Southwest Florida to install "veterans only" parking spaces on campus.
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