VA New England grows with College for America - VA New England Healthcare System
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VA New England Healthcare System

 

VA New England grows with College for America

College for America graduates are recognized at a ceremony at VA New England Healthcare System

VA New England Healthcare System employees were recently honored for completing their college degrees under the College for America program with Southern New Hampshire University. From left to right: Derilene McCloud, the director of Strategic Partnerships and Workforce Partnerships for Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H.; Amy A. Brown, human resources specialist, VA New England Healthcare System, graduated with a bachelor of arts in communications; Jennifer A. Brown, dental assistant, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, graduated with a bachelor of arts in Health Care Management; Ryan Lilly, network director of VA New England Healthcare System; John Anselmi, designated learning program manager for VA New England; Melissa Dickerson, budget technician, White River Junction VA Medical Center, Vermont, graduated with a bachelor of arts in Health Care Management; Shellie Sullivan, administrative officer, VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, graduated with an associate of arts in Healthcare Management.

By John Paradis, senior editor & writer, VA New England Healthcare System
Tuesday, January 7, 2020

BEDFORD, Mass. -- Jennifer Brown had a goal. She wanted to get her college degree in as little time as possible so she could put what she learns to help care for Veterans.

Through College for America, a pilot program created three years ago through a partnership between the VA New England Healthcare System and Southern New Hampshire University, Brown was able to finish all the requirements for her bachelor’s degree in Health Care Management while working full-time as a dental assistant at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass.

Brown said she reached her goal with a strict studying regimen that included course work every evening after work and every early morning before leaving for work. She has been a VA dental assistant for the past nine years.

She credits the flexibility of the College for America program, with allowing her to get it all done.

The program allows students to work at their own pace and offers instruction and coaches 24/7, 365 days a year.

“I am a pretty determined person,” said Brown. “But even so, this was perfectly suited for my schedule.”

SNHU assigned a personal academic advisor who assisted her with learning resources and provided one-on-one dedicated support. The technology support, she said, was exceptional. Her advisor and other experts in her field were available 24/7 any day of the week via a chat function or by phone or email.

“I liked that it was around the clock,” said Brown.

Jennifer Brown, VA dental assistant, with Veteran

Jennifer Brown was able to finish all the requirements for her bachelor’s degree in Health Care Management while working full-time as a dental assistant at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass. Here she is with Dennis Statuto, U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran from Chelmsford, Mass. Statuto served in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division from 1970 to 1971.

“AN IDEAL PROGRAM FOR WORKING ADULTS”

Specifically geared to support VA workforce skills and leadership development attributes, College for America offers VA New England employees the opportunity to achieve an associate degrees or a bachelor’s degree. Fields of learning include such areas as health care management, communications and business degrees.

The program has grown from 25 VA employees its first year to 60 students today.

“This is an ideal program for working adults with busy lives,” said Derilene McCloud, the director of Strategic Partnerships and Workforce Partnerships for Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H. “It’s a college degree program that fits within their work and home life.”

McCloud joined Ryan Lilly, VA New England Healthcare System’s network director, and other SNHU and VA staff at a recognition ceremony at VA Bedford last month that honored recent graduates from across VA New England.

VA New England launched the program three years ago with SNHU after VA employees from throughout New England offered feedback during employee surveys that they would like to see a degree program offered.

Lilly said the program supports a key succession planning strategy in identifying and developing new leaders and helps VA prepare its workforce to assume greater responsibility and roles in the future. VA New England provides the funding for the scholarship program, which is then administered at the local medical center level at VA New England facilities.

VA employee at her work desk

"You look back and you tell yourself, ‘wow, I didn’t know I could come this far,’ but it’s wonderful to know that the VA says it has confidence in you and we know that you can do this.” ~ Amy Brown, a human resources specialist with the VA New England Healthcare System, describing what it felt like after earning her bachelor's degree with the College for America program.

A GREAT STRATEGY FOR GROWING LEADERS

For VA New England, the program is as much a great strategy for growing leaders as it is an exceptional benefit.

“We’re proud to pilot this program with Southern New Hampshire University,” said Lilly. “College for America is important for all of our directors across VA England because we want to build leaders and we want an educated workforce for our Veterans. It’s been a great succession program that also dovetails with employee engagement.”

At the recognition ceremony, John Anselmi, who leads VA New England’s designated learning program, praised each student for dedicating their off-work time toward their degrees.

“You have worked very hard,” said Anselmi. “You have shown a commitment not only to yourselves and to your future but to the VA and ultimately to the Veterans you serve.”

This year’s graduates say they would highly recommend the programs to others.

The program, they said, provides writing coaches, math coaches and peer tutors in whatever way suits students best: one-or-one, topical webinars, research and citation support, written feedback on assignments, writing or STEM coaching, as well as basic English language assistance.

“There are times when I would get home from work and start getting into my course work and I’d have a question, and it was great to be able to seek help in the evening or really at any time I needed the support,” said Brown.

Another tremendous resource is connecting students with other students and experts in their fields of study by facilitating a nationwide knowledge online exchange, students say.

Brown, who has several family members who are Veterans, now hopes to use her degree to advance within VA with a management or leadership position.

“I want to make positive changes to help serve the men and women who have served our country and I just want to make sure they are rewarded and I can give them my best,” she said.

VA NEW ENGLAND LIST OF GRADUATES

Here is the 2019 list of College for America graduates from the VA New England Healthcare System:

Stephen Bethel, White River Junction VA Medical Center, associate of arts in General Studies with a specialization in Business.

Amy Brown, VA New England Healthcare System, bachelor of arts in communications with a concentration in business.

Jennifer Brown, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, VA Bedford, Mass., bachelor of arts in Health Care Management with a concentration in communications.

Marie Clancy, VA Boston Healthcare System, bachelor of arts in Healthcare Management with a concentration in Global Perspectives.

Kim DiBenedetto-Rogers, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, associate of arts in Healthcare Management.

Melissa Dickerson, White River Junction VA Medical Center, bachelor of arts in Health Care Management with a concentration in communications.

Mary Ellen Gomes, VA Maine, associate of arts in Healthcare Management.

Rosita Rodriguez, VA Connecticut, bachelor of arts in Health Care Management with a concentration in communications.

Andrew Scheller, VA Connecticut, associate of arts in Healthcare Management.

Angela Stockton, White River Junction VA Medical Center, associate of arts in General Studies with a specialization in Business.

Shellie Sullivan, VA Central Western Massachusetts, associate of arts in Healthcare Management.

Donald Witmer-Kean, VA Maine, associate of arts in Healthcare Management.

GRADUATE PROFILES

Meet some of the recent VA New England Healthcare System College for America graduates.

Amy A. Brown

Hometown: West Haven, Conn.
VA Medical Center: VA New England Healthcare System (VISN 1)
VA position: Human Resources Specialist (Employee Benefits). “I assist/counsel employees with retirement information and retirement paperwork, military service deposits, and death benefits.”
CfA program: Bachelor of arts in Communications with a concentration in business.
Comment: “The College for America program helped me build a strong showcase of knowledge to bring to my Employer and the Veterans I serve. You’re able to work with other students virtually and it was nice to go online and be able to work with lots of people and reach someone on the other side of the world that’s going through the same thing and I was able to work together to master a project. Employees should take full advantage of the opportunities provided. You look back and you tell yourself, ‘wow, I didn’t know I could come this far,’ but it’s wonderful to know that the VA says it has confidence in you and we know that you can do this.”

Jennifer A. Brown

Hometown: Northfield, N.H.
VA Medical Center: Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, VA Bedford, Mass.
VA position: Certified Dental Assistant.
CfA program: Bachelor of arts in Health Care Management with a concentration in communications.
Comment: “I am hoping (CfA) will open doors for a job advancement so that I can continue to make contributions towards streamlining the efficiency of care for the brave men and women who defend our great nation. I feel I have made all the improvements I can at my current level and that I need to move up to make an even greater difference in the lives of our Veterans.  I have innovative ideas that I would like to implement but need to be at a higher level to put them in motion.”

Melissa Dickerson

Hometown: Cornish, N.H.
VA Medical Center: White River Junction VA Medical Center
VA position: Budget technician for Facilities Management Service and secretary for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2604. “I do all ordering of supplies and materials. I track and pay all service agreement invoices. I track and pay all construction invoices. I put together, submit, track and balance a budget of $8 million to $10 Million.”
CfA program: Bachelor of arts in Health Care Management with a concentration in communications.
Comment: “(CfA) will help me grow in my career and by learning about the ways a hospital works I can better serve patients. It allows employees to earn a degree that will help them move up in the VA. Without that they may have to look at outside jobs. This program was amazing and easy to navigate and lets you work on your own pace. You get to meet new people and I have been able to help others who have taken this course after me. I was also able to transition right into my master’s degree which I am very close to completing.”

Maryellen Gomes

Hometown: Windsor, Maine
VA Medical Center: VA Maine Healthcare System
VA position: Health Tech/Certified Nursing Assistant. “My job duties are obtaining vital signs on the Veterans that come to our outpatient clinic, faxing documents for physicians, retrieving outside provider notes, completing EKG’s when needed and chart prep.”
CfA program: Associate of arts in Healthcare Management.
Comment: “My degree, although working on my bachelor’s degree now, will allow me to care for Veterans on a deeper level. Rather than take vital signs, I hope to be their supporter behind the scenes, and help with their needs on a higher level. The College for America program is important to me because I would not have been able to attend college any other way. The College for America program taught me balance and helped me focus. I learned how to prioritize better, and communicate on a higher level. I recommend this program to anyone interested in furthering their education.”

Shellie Sullivan

Hometown: Granby, Mass.
VA Medical Center: VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System
VA position: Administrative officer, Mental Health Service
CfA program: “I received an associate of arts in Healthcare Management and I’m now working on my bachelor’s degree.”
Comment: “College for America gives you an opportunity to advance your career, and move up. It gives people who might not have the time or maybe they are too busy or, maybe like me, they are a single mom, the ability to go to college. It’s given me the opportunity to complete my degree. This program allows you do it at your own pace.”

Rosita Rodriguez

Hometown: West Haven, Conn.
VA Medical Center: VA Connecticut Healthcare System
VA position: Supervisory health systems specialist, Mental Health Service, where she facilitates and coordinates care for Veterans.
CfA program: Bachelor of arts in Health Care Management with a concentration in communications.
Comment: “I was a bit nervous going back to school after a long absence, but the school provided the tools I needed to ensure I succeed. There is an advisory team that helps you plan your learning schedule to fit each semester, thus not overloading you with school work and spreading the courses equitably throughout the program.”

Donald Witmer-Kean

Hometown: Somerville, Maine
VA Medical Center: VA Maine Healthcare System
VA position: Registered vascular technologist. “I perform non-invasive blood flow studies at the VA for the Department of Surgery.”
CfA program: “I received an associates in Healthcare Management. I’m now working on my bachelors in Healthcare Management with my continuing scholarship from VISN 1.”
Comment: “This tremendous opportunity I have been given through College of America is allowing me to fulfill my personal desire to advance academically and to better serve our Veterans and VISN 1 by utilizing the skill sets I have learned and continue to learn.”

 

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