Jan. 14, 2021, KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – While many different groups face challenges from the pandemic, at Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) among those impacted are active military and veteran students, who experience unavoidable federal delays in receiving financial support and disability aid, and struggles with housing benefits that lapse during the holiday break. Beginning in December, Oregon Tech’s Student Involvement & Belonging department had an idea—reaching out to military-affiliated students at the university to show support and appreciation.

When Oregon Tech received an ODVA grant this fall, the intention was to create specific marketing and engagement initiatives that would benefit Oregon Tech’s military-affiliated student community. However, due to less in-person activities, Student Involvement & Belonging (SIB) knew that they wanted to do more. Leading the charge, associate director of SIB, Iona Musgnung, asked if those funds from ODVA could be used to support and engage military students over the holiday break through care packages. “I kept thinking about how our Veterans Affairs benefit using students don’t get housing benefits over breaks and that it can be a really difficult time of the year for them,” said Iona.

While grant funds could be used for portions of the care package (food and hats with the new veteran services logo), the team also wanted to provide gift cards for groceries. This is when Oregon Tech military outreach lead, retired USAF Colonel, Jeff Smith, contacted Kathy Pierce from the Klamath County Veteran Services Office (VSO). Jeff shares, “She jumped on the opportunity to do something good and positive for our veteran students during this rough COVID holiday season. Klamath County supported our Klamath Falls-based veteran students and families with over $1,000 in gift cards.” The team was also able to use some university veteran-allocated funds to cover additional gift cards.

The “boots on the ground” team of Iona, Kim Faks and Correne Cleland contacted active military and veteran students to share the good news, and over the week of Dec. 21, SIB distributed and mailed 80 packages along to students who responded. The university wide effort made sure students from campuses in Klamath Falls, Portland-Metro, online and through Oregon Tech’s collaboration with Chemeketa Community College in Salem received packages. Iona shared, “While so many of our students from all of our campuses are currently connected online, we have really learned how to adapt our programming to be inclusive of every student at Oregon Tech, regardless of where they live or which campus they attend. It brings us all together and lets us be even more intentional about access to our programming.

“We are so excited that we have been able to stay connected with student veterans during this online-era,” said Iona. “Joining us this month, Jay Headley, the new director of Veteran Student Services at Oregon Tech, will be able to work with us to provide an even stronger relationship with our student veterans.”

Oregon Tech is home to more than 270 military-affiliated students and maintains yellow ribbon program status- which offers unlimited funding for the Yellow Ribbon Program and adheres to the Section 702 Choice Act to benefit out-of-state student veterans. The University is also ranked a Top Veteran-Friendly School by US Veterans MagazineMilitary Friendly School by Military Times and Military-Friendly University by Military Advanced Education (MAE).