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Fanshawe College launches ‘military-connected campus’

The new initiative aims to recognize and support the unique skills and challenges of students who are also military members. Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

A new initiative from Fanshawe College looks to better support the post-secondary education of members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), veterans and their families.

The London, Ont.-based college launched the initiative on Monday with the goal of turning Fanshawe into a “military-connected campus.” As part of that designation, Fanshawe plans to offer increased social supports, new bursaries and academic credit for students who are military-connected.

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Darlene O’Neill is the director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe and helped lead the new initiative.

O’Neill says the new initiative was sparked by a program created with the 31 Canadian Brigade Group, who make up the local army reserve in London. That collaboration led to reservists enrolled at Fanshawe becoming eligible for a distinct recognition upon graduation.

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“The initiative is such a success that we then thought, ‘OK, let’s call ourselves a military-connected campus and embrace all military-connected people.’ So, for about the past seven months, we’ve been working on this project,” said O’Neill.

Upon graduation, military-connected students at Fanshawe College will receive this unique commemorative coin. Fanshawe College

O’Neill says the new initiative responds to a number of gaps in support that were often found for students who were connected to the military.

“Oftentimes, military-connected people, they’re moving from a collectivist type of culture where military members are very, very connected to each other irregardless of where they are in Canada or the world, and when they enter post-secondary, it becomes an individualistic type of culture where they’re focused on their goals of education,” said O’Neill.

The new initiative will be more inclusive and work to recognize the social contrasts between military life and civilian life. The initiative will also look to foster student-led support groups for those who are military-connected, as well as create a student ambassador who will offer advice on the unique needs of military-connected students.

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Fanshawe will also accommodate all military responsibilities that may force students to take time off, such as unexpected call-outs, training exercises or deployments.

“We are going to recognize those operational calls and readjust their academic schedule, so we can support them in every path they take throughout their college experience,” said O’Neill.

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The new initiative was created in collaboration with the CAF and O’Neill says they received plenty of advice and guidance during its design.

“I’ve been co-leading this project with Darryl Cathcart, who is a retired major from the military,” said O’Neill.

“He’s been providing us with the guidance, the tools and the experience that we needed to make this meaningful and lasting.”