Fort McCoy News Jan. 8, 2016

Education and Learning Center supports students

STORY & PHOTO BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Creating an efficient and economically feasible plan to start a college education can be a challenging process, said Educational Services Specialist Alan Amundson. The Fort McCoy Education and Learning Center (ELC) can help make the process easier.

The ELC, located in building 50, is aligned under the 88th Regional Support Command (RSC). The staff includes three educational services advisers, a test examiner, and an educational services specialist. ELC services are available to active- and reserve-component military members, Department of Defense civilian employees, military retirees, and Family members.

The biggest challenge is getting started, said Educational Services Adviser Tara Lewis. The ELC staff helps prospective students understand what's available to them and what they can do to begin their college careers.

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Debbie Paeth, educational services adviser at the 88th Regional Support Command Education and Learning Center in building 50, helps Soldiers using the center's computers.

"The first thing we're going to do is meet with them and find out their goals," Lewis said. "We will then work with them to develop an education plan that helps them meet those goals."

ELC staff members can help students make sound financial plans to pay for education courses. With Post 9/11 GI Bill, for example, the ELC helps students choose a school and apply for benefits online using the Veterans On-Line Application at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/vonapp with Veterans Affairs.

"We also can help students find information regarding stipends, grants, and scholarships and how to apply for them," Amundson said.

The center also serves Army Reserve Soldiers with Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) both stateside and overseas. Most of the support for MEDCOM consists of coordinating students and educational institutions and helping with federal tuition-assistance applications in the online "GoArmyEd" system, https://www.goarmyed.com.

Annually, the ELC helps between 6,000 and 7,000 people in MEDCOM with tuition assistance and course planning. In the past year, through assistance provided by the ELC, 230 people earned certificates and associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees from dozens of colleges and universities throughout the United States.

"We currently don't offer any on-site classes due to funding challenges, but our educational support positively affects many people locally and in all 50 states and even service members stationed overseas," Amundson said.

The ELC also provides guidance and coordination for civilian and military testing. This includes the College-level Examination Program (CLEP) and Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support (DANTES) exams to earn college credit and professional testing. Army Personnel Tests given at the ELC through appointments include the Armed Forces Classification Test and Defense Language Proficiency Tests.

The ELC's test examiner, Shayna Martinson, offers assistance with the point of contact information to the closest national test center (NTC) for fully funded DANTES Standardized Subject Tests (DSST) and refundable ACT, SAT, and Graduate Record Examinations.

Fort McCoy is not a DANTES computer test site, so many of the exams are administered at the nearest site — the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Also, there is no longer a $20 upfront fee for DSST tests at stateside NTCs.

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Students should ensure their school accepts DSST credits and have their school's identification number for applying DSST or CLEP credit to student's test scores, which are available at the end of the test in most cases, Amundson said.

Amundson said the ELC staff helps students navigate the GoArmyEd website. For those students who don't need the website, the staff provides information to help them request any educational benefits to which they may be entitled.

Everything the ELC does, Amundson said, aligns with the Army Continuing Education System (ACES) mission to promote lifelong learning, readiness, and resilience through flexible and relevant education programs, services, and systems.

"We are here to support the ACES mission," Amundson said. "If someone comes for assistance, we are going to help them as best we can."

Tylor Harlan, an ELC educational services adviser, still serves as a staff sergeant in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. As a unit career counselor within a combat-engineer unit, he said he continuously promotes the idea of continuing education to his fellow Soldiers.

"Having a good education is extremely important," Harlan said. "It can help with promotions and, overall, creates better Soldiers and a stronger Army."

The center has six computer workstations for customer use and testing and an information center that includes textbooks, manuals, college information, and more.

"The information center also has study guides for many of the professional tests taken by service members," Amundson said. "If you're going to take a test, such as a DANTES exam, make sure you stop by to see the selection of materials we have available."

The ELC also has a college textbook exchange. "If anyone has recent college textbooks that can be used by other students, please consider donating them to the textbook exchange," Amundson said.

ELC team members constantly support their customers, Lewis said.

"The best thing about working here is being able to help service members set up their educational goals, get into a degree program, and see them use the benefits they have earned," she said.

Amundson added, "At the end of the day, it feels good to know that we may have made a positive difference in someone's life."

The ELC is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in room 123 of building 50. For more information, call 608-388-7311.