November 5, 2020

Since the first two student veterans arrived at Texas A&M University for rehabilitation training in March 1919, Aggieland has committed to “Serve well those who have served.” This is the motto of the Don and Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource and Support Center (VRSC), which, through the Division of Student Affairs, supports Texas A&M’s 1,300 student veterans and their families.

“The VRSC believes in leading fundamental change to transform and sustain Texas A&M as the destination of choice for student veteran success,” said Col. Gerald Smith ’82, USMC (Ret.), director of the VRSC. “Our goal is to maximize the leadership potential of student veterans for future service to our state, nation and world after they graduate and leave our campus.”

The number of student veterans at Texas A&M has more than doubled since the center opened in 2012. With Texas poised to become home to the highest number of veterans in the nation, the university plays an important role in helping these men and women transition back into civilian life. Unlike many universities, which provide resources to veterans from their arrival on campus until their graduation, the VRSC supports veterans from the time they begin their application up until their vocation.

“The real goal is getting veterans back to the civilian workforce,” Smith said. “We strive to keep them fit in four areas—academics, finances, well-being and career—to enhance their transitions, success rates, graduation rates and employment rates.”

Because many student veterans are nontraditional students with families, they have more expenses than the average college student, and although they receive funds from the GI Bill, these resources often do not last until graduation. To offset some of these costs, Ellie and Don Knauss recently committed a $5 million naming gift to the VRSC, which includes $500,000 in matching funds for new student veteran scholarships. “The matching opportunity will help us reach a larger number of donors and create a greater impact for many more student veterans and their spouses,” Smith said.

In addition to scholarships, Texas A&M partners with donors to provide numerous programs that set America’s heroes up for success. On this Veterans Day, here are just a few campus veteran programs that are ripe for your support.


One of the newest VRSC programs, Veteran Aggie Leaders for Outreach and Resources (VALOR) is a mentorship program that pairs new student veterans with more experienced veterans to provide advice and support as they transition into university and civilian life. The program launched in spring 2020 and currently consists of 217 students and 8 peer mentors with the goal of encompassing all student veterans at Texas A&M.

“Many people see a veteran’s transition as an event,” explained SGM Donald Freeman, USA (Ret.), the VRSC’s assistant director. “They see it as the veteran returning from deployment and meeting their family and loved ones in the airport. The transition is much more. It’s a process.”

Because the process is different for each student, VALOR provides veterans with individualized support throughout their academic journey, including academic and professional workshops and social networking opportunities to help incoming veterans build connections. The program also provides benefits to mentors, such as a sense of purpose and leadership skills. “VALOR is made up of student veterans and dependents who are dedicated to serving their peers and seeing them succeed,” Freeman said.

A $500,000 endowment to name the program can help VALOR impact each of its veterans in perpetuity, and pass-through gifts of any amount can provide continued support. 


Aggie Shields

Since 2014, Aggie Shields has helped offset educational expenses for veterans, spouses and their dependents through its Textbook Lending Library. A student organization, Aggie Shields was established to address the additional financial difficulties that textbook costs present to veterans and their families.

“Many of our student veterans live on a very limited income, and their small federal benefits stipend barely covers one book,” explained Ashley Drake, student development specialist at the VRSC. “This program eliminates the burden of textbook costs for our veterans and allows them to focus on their academics and other needs for success.”

To date, the library has served 1,001 individuals, saving them a total of more than $582,000 by providing more than 5,700 books from disciplines across the university. The library receives textbooks donated by students, and it also purchases new books with donated funds. As the program continues to expand, Drake hopes it will receive additional support in order to impact more students and inspire similar programs at other campuses in The Texas A&M University System. “We are excited to watch the program and its impact grow,” Drake said.

A $500,000 endowment to name the program and support the collection of books will ensure that Aggie Shields can permanently assist veterans with textbook costs. You can also provide support with a pass-through gift of any amount. 


Warrior-Scholar Project

Since 2016, Texas A&M has partnered with the national Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) to host academic bootcamps for transitioning servicemembers. During the two-week program, veterans receive mentorship from successful student veterans and experience the rigorous expectations of a top-tier research institution by living on campus, attending faculty-taught lectures, and participating in workshops and writing assignments. The program, which is available at no cost to participants thanks to donors, has served 65 veterans at Texas A&M and currently focuses on humanities and STEM topics with the goal to expand to business topics in the future.

“Many veterans go straight from high school into the military and serve a minimum of four years, so by the time they return to an academic setting, it has become a foreign and overwhelming environment they are unprepared to navigate,” Drake said. “It is vital to their success that they enter higher education prepared.”

WSP is built on the belief that veterans’ time in the military produces important skills that set them up for future success. “The program helps participants realize their full potential for success and inspires many to pursue their dream institution and degree,” Drake added.

A $1 million naming endowment will allow the program to help introduce veterans to academic life for years to come, and pass-through gifts of any amount can increase support. 


BattleGround to Breaking Ground

Run by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the BattleGround to Breaking Ground Program offers workshops, courses and hands-on experience to help veterans and their families learn how to start and grow a farm or ranch. The program was established in 2011 as a one-day workshop before expanding into a year-long program in 2015 consisting of three phases. The first and second phases teach business plan development and marketing and financial planning, while the third phase provides 100 hours of individualized hands-on experience with mentors. This training helps eliminate barriers for veterans desiring to enter agricultural pursuits.

“By providing self-employment in agricultural training, our participants can create their own employment, provide employment opportunities in rural areas, provide a source of local food and improve the economic vitality of rural communities,” said Program Manager Erin Kimbrough ’13.

To date, the program has served more than 1,000 veterans and their families. Through a grant from the USDA, the program covers expenses for 15 veterans in each cohort, but Kimbrough hopes to increase the program’s funding to support additional applicants and provide courses in a wider range of agricultural areas.

“Agriculture isn’t easy, but we keep moving forward for a purpose greater than ourselves,” she said. “This is a concept most veterans have a lot of experience with from their military service, and their commitment inspires me every day.”


First-Generation Veterans Program

Approximately 45% of all undergraduate student veterans at Texas A&M are first-generation students who face additional challenges in navigating college life. To support these students and help them overcome these difficulties, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences established the First-Generation Veterans Program in 2017. Through this learning community, students meet with faculty and staff mentors and hear from guest speakers about additional campus resources and factors for personal and academic success.

“We attempt to tailor programming specific to their needs and provide a way for them to engage with other veterans,” explained Dr. Summer Odom ’99, program manager. “We care about veterans and recognize the strengths they bring to the university.”

In previous years, the program supported participants with a stipend funded by a grant from the Office of the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs. Although that funding is no longer available, Odom hopes to continue to offer the stipend through private funding to reach more students. “Veterans who decide to pursue their degrees are focused individuals who are sometimes hesitant to commit to an outside activity that would take away from their academic commitments or family time,” she explained. “The added stipend each semester helps them financially and allows them to commit to engaging with the program.”


Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans

The Reynolds & Reynolds Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) provides training and resources for veterans in business or those interested in starting their own business. Founded by Mays Business School’s McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship in 2008, the bootcamp has served 261 participants, and 92% of the ventures started by EBV graduates are still in operation. As part of a nationwide EBV network of university partners, the program prepares veterans to be successful entrepreneurs by providing information on accounting, marketing, government support programs and team management, all taught by Texas A&M faculty and experienced entrepreneurs.

“Even though there are many incentive programs to employ veterans, many still have difficulty finding jobs in traditional workplace environments,” explained Blake Petty ’98, executive director of the McFerrin Center. “A significant percentage of veterans become entrepreneurs and, frankly, most have the perfect skills and mindset to become successful. EBV provides the right resources and support at the right time to get them started and positioned for entrepreneurial success.”

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of individual and corporate donors, EBV is entirely free to all veterans, and the center utilizes the Aggie Mentor Network to provide one-on-one mentorship sessions with the participants. “The veterans tell us over and over again that their Aggie mentors are invaluable,” Petty added. “Many of the mentors continue to stay in touch with the veterans long after they have completed EBV.”

Currently, the program hosts up to 30 veterans each year, but Petty has goals to increase this capacity to help more veterans achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.

Additional gifts of endowed excellence funds established at a minimum of $25,000 will allow for the continued growth of the EBV program, while pass-through gifts of $5,000 can support one veteran entrepreneur taking part in the program. 



One of the pillars of Texas A&M’s veteran support model is financial fitness. Recognizing that many veterans’ tight budgets create an increased likelihood that they will drop out of school when faced with emergency expenses, the VRSC partnered with a distinguished former student from the Class of 1959 to create the Student Aggie Veteran Enhancement (SAVE) Fund. Awarded to veterans when faced with hardships or unusual circumstances, the fund has assisted 37 student veterans since 2016, allowing 27 of them to graduate and an additional nine to remain enrolled and continue pursuing their degree—a 98% success rate.

The VRSC is creating an additional fund, the SAVE Special Purpose Fund, to expand its financial support by assisting with child-care expenses. “This fund has the potential to create the most impact of anything we’ve started in a long time,” said VRSC Director Gerald Smith.


Support the mission of the Veteran Resource & Support Center with an online gift at You can also support any veterans program with an endowed gift of $25,000 or more; in recognition, a room in the new VRSC will be named in your honor. To learn how you can create a student veteran scholarship using available matching funds or to inquire more about Texas A&M’s veteran programs, contact Lt Col Dave Fujimoto ’17, USAF (Ret) at (979) 458-2634 or by sending a message through the form below.