LAWRENCE — Jim Anschultz’s unlikely path from journeyman construction worker to college honors student and national scholarship winner began in February 2009 at a Kansas City, Kansas, job fair. At the time, Anschultz was a 53-year-old, unemployed Air Force veteran residing in one of the local homeless shelters. He’d never attended a postsecondary education course and had no computer skills.
But that day at the fair, he met Lisa Schley, academic adviser for KU’s TRIO Veterans Upward Bound, a Kansas City, Kansas-based program of the Achievement & Assessment Institute’s Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP). As they discussed his situation and hopes for a better life, Schley offered Anschultz a way forward. It wouldn’t be easy, and it would require dedication and time, but Schley promised that Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) could help prepare Anschultz for college and assist him through the application and acceptance process.
“I needed somebody to believe in me, and Lisa did. I said I was all in,” Anschultz said as he discussed winning one of six 2014 National VUB Scholarships; the $1,000 awards were announced earlier this fall. “I had a lot of work to do. My English skills were OK, but I needed to work on stuff like algebra and typing — I’d never even turned on a computer.”
That August, through the VUB’s academic refresher courses and the financial assistance of a Pell Grant, Anschultz enrolled in classes at Kansas City, Kansas Community College (KCKCC).
“Jim is very persistent,” Schley said. “He would come up here and work so hard. He had to overcome some financial challenges, and he didn’t have reliable transportation — he had to take the bus everywhere — but he didn’t let those things stop him. Whatever we suggested in terms of his academic preparation and future, he listened and really took the advice to heart. We’re all so proud of what he’s accomplished and what he’s working toward.”
Indeed, Anschultz made the most of his opportunity, eventually becoming a dormitory resident assistant and student senator while compiling a 3.67 GPA that earned him honor-roll recognition. He was accorded Phi Theta Kappa academic honors when he earned his associate's degree in 2013, and he is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social welfare through the B.S.W. Edwards 2+2 program, a partnership between the KU School of Social Welfare and KCKCC that prepares students for work in public or private social agencies in hospitals or other supervised health care settings.
“Jim displays a fierce determination,” said Julia O’Dell, who has directed the KU VUB program since its establishment in 1999. “He continued to endure many personal and financial hardships throughout the time he was working with our program, but he remained cheerful, reliable and grateful for our help. He took his college preparation seriously, focused on his studies when he entered school, and embraced the college experience by becoming involved in campus activities.”
From a suite of small offices in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, O’Dell leads the program, one of 48 nationally, charged to equip qualifying veterans with the qualifications, skills and motivation they need to enter and succeed in postsecondary education programs. The KU program serves veterans in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, including Douglas, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, and Jackson, Cass and Clay counties in Missouri.
O’Dell and her four-member team offer counseling and expertise to help eligible vets prepare for and figure out their best path to success, whether it is at a two-year community college, a four-year college or university, or a public or private vocational or technical school. All services, including instruction, textbooks, advising and supplies, are provided free of charge.
In addition to academic advising and career counseling, VUB also provides tutoring to advance academic skillsets including math, reading, writing and computer literacy. Additionally, veterans learn about the demands of the collegiate experience, including such seemingly mundane aspects as the importance of checking email regularly and how to secure tutoring and counseling services.
“The services we provide enable our veterans to make some solid consumer decisions as to what education can help them accomplish and where they might go to school, and then helping them with the rigmarole of getting into college,” O’Dell said. “We’re funded to serve 125 veterans over the course of the year. We look for veterans who didn’t come from families where college was the assumed course.”
They work with veterans who may come to them homeless, or just out of prison, or still needing to acquire their GED or improve reading and math skills. They work with veterans who may have issues related to combat experiences, or who simply lack the confidence to move forward in their postmilitary lives. With such a diverse group of clients, VUB’s measures of success extend beyond merely helping individuals with their educational goals. Staff members work closely with colleagues at Kansas City’s two Veterans Administration Medical Centers. “We refer veterans to other services,” O’Dell said. “If they’re in crisis, we don’t just give them an address or a phone number; we refer them directly to the people who can help.”
VUB serves two distinct populations — older vets who served in the 1970s and 1980s, and younger vets who in many cases are only a few years removed from high school.
“Older veterans oftentimes have had a job that’s gone away and need new training,” O’Dell said. “Maybe it was a labor-type job that they’re no longer physically able to do. Maybe it was a job that’s no longer relevant in this economy or that now requires new technical skills. The other population is younger, more tech-savvy, more likely to be academically and technically prepared for school, but they are less likely to understand the ramifications of quick decisions about going back to school. We want to take a long-term view of where they want to ultimately be. When we’re working with older veterans, they don’t have that luxury. In the end, for both populations, we’re focused on helping veterans make good, solid decisions based on their circumstances, their financial needs and their career objectives.”
Anschultz testifies to that positive difference. “Nobody ever thought I’d make it this far, but those folks believed in me and helped me believe in myself,” he said. “I feel very blessed to be where I am, and to have a future that I can look forward to. I want to work with the elderly as a patient advocate. When I earn my bachelor’s degree, I plan to apply for the master’s program. I’m proof that programs like VUB work.”