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BW earns top U.S. News ranking as Best College for Veterans

Its accolades are a standout — No. 1 ranking on the regional U.S. News and World Report "Best Colleges for Veterans" list and a meritorious connection to Major League Baseball. But the best pride point for BW's veteran and military services program is the success stories of its students.

Penny Forster '01, director of community impact for the Guardians, and Mike Brown '18, manager of BW’s veteran and military services program, raise the U.S. flag in October as part of a Major League Baseball project at the BW All-Star Veterans Center.

Mike Brown '18 manages BW's veteran and military services program. The former Marine majored in national security and political science at BW while helping lead major initiatives at the university through its Student Veterans of America Chapter. Today, he is a mentor, role model, advocate and resource person for individuals looking to further their education at BW.

Volunteers help beautify the grounds of the All-Star Veterans Center in October.

Currently, 43 student veterans are using their GI Bill benefit at BW. That number increases to 82 individuals in total when dependents, who can also qualify for tuition coverage under the program, are included.

U.S. News and World Report 2024 Regional 'Best Colleges for Veterans' Top Ranking

For the BW community, it comes as no surprise that the university earned the No. 1 spot as the regional best college for veterans. The latest accolade is one of several triumphs. Among them, BW is one of the first colleges in Ohio to earn the state's new Collegiate Purple Star award and is a regular recipient of GI Jobs Magazine's Gold Military Friendly recognition.

Major League Baseball Invests in BW Veterans Center

In October, as six new flags were raised at BW's All-Star Veterans Center, feelings of reverence, national pride and YJ4L spirit united members of the BW community and Cleveland Guardians Baseball. The flags, each representing one of the branches of the U.S. armed services as well as a POW/MIA flag, were gifted to BW as a follow-up to an All-Star Legacy Project that began in 2019 when Cleveland hosted the All-Star Game. At the time, both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cleveland Guardians provided monetary and labor support to transform a once-vacant, BW-owned house into a welcoming and multifunctional new veterans center.

Volunteers pose alongside the newly added flags, which represent each of the branches of the U.S. Armed Services.

The installation of the flags and other recent enhancements this fall are part of a $20,000 grant that MLB distributed through the teams for veterans' projects. Penny Forster '01, director of community impact for the Guardians, said she thought of BW because the Veterans Center was originally an MLB project. Forester, who majored in sport management and business administration at BW and is currently ­vice president of the BW Alumni Council, went on to say that veterans are "near and dear" to retired Guardians Manager Tito Francona.

From Navy Carriers to Bringing Brandon to BW

"Being in the military is kind of a fever dream where you have a disposal income and time with the most hysterical people on earth — until one day you don't. You have those friends for life, but they move back near their families, and it's never quite the same magic." Those words, articulated by biology major Rachel Yerich '23 about her time in the U.S. Navy, bear a similar reminder of college life for many undergraduate students — perhaps with a wink and a nod to the part about disposable income.

Now a BW senior on track to graduate in December, she looks back at her time in the armed services with appreciation, wit and candor in discussing the impact it had on her life — most importantly in leading her to Brandon Yerich '25.

"Brandon and I both were in the Navy. We met while stationed in San Diego, but the ship we were on was scheduled for a hull swap, which means it was going to change its homeport in San Diego with another ship stationed in Japan," explained the second-class petty officer originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Rachel and Brandon Yerich spent time in Thailand during their service in the Navy.

"I've always wanted to live in a foreign country, and he didn't, so we decided to get married and see if we could make it work. During the hull swap, Brandon hopped on another carrier and went all around South America while I stayed on the USS Ronald Reagan and floated on up to Japan," she noted. "Later, we were stationed in Washington state. After getting out in 2021, we moved to Ohio to be near family and got accepted to BW, which was our next big adventure!"

For Brandon, who grew up in Berea, BW was the perfect place to use his GI benefit. "I initially was just working full time, but Rachel loved the school so much that she convinced me to come. I work full time at a hospital as an electrician on top of going to school. It's a lot of work, but the availability of classes has helped me circumvent any scheduling issues," said the cybersecurity analyst major who served as a third-class petty officer in the Navy.

In considering her career trajectory, Rachel summed it up for the hard-working couple who left behind a whirlwind of worldly travel to pursue their college degrees. "It was hard to take that first step and go back to school when you haven't taken a math test in four years, but it's worth it.

A Pivot Leads to a New Pathway

Sometimes, a career path just isn't clear, so you make a pivot. That's what 21-year-old Julieann Chambers '25 did in 2015 when her community college plans just didn't live up to what she had hoped. She tucked away her Tri-C student ID after attending two semesters. Then, she committed herself to following the Semper Fidelis motto of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Julieann Chambers was a proud Marine for four years.

"I decided to join the Marine Corps because I felt a positive shift was needed, and I wanted to experience a new environment," said the Cleveland resident.

She went from being stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to a six-month stint at Morón Air Base in Spain, followed by a year at Camp Fuji in Japan. The experience helped Chambers grow personally and professionally. 

"When I deployed to Spain in 2017, it made a positive impact on me because I found so much motivation and knew the type of leader I wanted to become," she noted with earnest reflection.

After completing her service as a Marine, Chambers returned to Tri-C to continue her college education. She earned an associate of arts degree in spring of 2021 and enrolled at BW two years later as a business administration major. In addition to her junior status at BW,  Chambers is employed full time at Tri-C and has helped lead the Women Veterans Network (WoVeN) group in Northeast Ohio. Her future plans include pursuing a master's degree.

"BW is a great school to attend. Michael Brown is fantastic. He's very supportive and does whatever he can to make sure students succeed," she emphasized.

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