For people who choose a career in the field of serving those who have served our country, high levels of dedication and sacrifice come with the territory. Who would want to give anything less to the men and women who have served in the ranks of the United States Armed Forces?
Diane Sandefur (pictured above), the director of Veterans Upward Bound, is a person who understands the level of commitment needed when running programs that help Philadelphia area veterans.
The Veterans Upward Bound program is a United States Department of Education-funded endeavor that offers pre-college classes to veterans, free of charge, with the intention of preparing them to enter traditional two and four-year colleges. Sandefur, who has been working in the program for 18 of its 35 years, makes sure VUB classes maintain a high level of quality.
“We try to emulate the college class experience,” she said.
On a recent day, Sandefur was assisting some veterans troubleshoot an internet issue. Only moments later, she ran a meeting with students from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, sorting out the details of an upcoming Washington D.C. trip for the veterans in the program.
Sandefur took individual meetings with more students and many phone calls before heading to a staff meeting in the late afternoon.
“The veterans who are students here are getting past physical, emotional and mental hurdles,” she said. “They keep going and don’t give up. That’s the reason for me to be here.”
https://vimeo.com/108858894]Sandefur’s connection to the veterans and recognition of the obstacles many of them have overcome rubs off on the people she interacts with at Veterans Upward Bound.
“It has been enriching, educational and fun because she’s very passionate and very committed to the veterans,” said Josh Michnowski, one of the Wharton students planning the D.C. trip. “Her realism gives us a balance between loftiness and a concrete goal.”
Structure is important and Sandefur understands that. Veterans take the classes over two 15-week periods before being deemed ready for college admission. Courses in math, languages and science are available. Specialized 300 level classes are also made available but are not required. VUB even offers tutoring and counseling services to help the veterans make it all the way to graduation.
Sandefur also recognizes the value that cultural and social activities have on shaping education. Due to the program’s longevity and success, they are in a position where funding can be made available for activities outside of the classroom. VUB organizes museum trips, dinners and even allows students to attend plays free of charge.
“It really helps with retention in the program,” Sandefur said. “The museum visits and all the cultural trips help us to show the students that the ability to do these things comes along with moving forward in one’s education.”
Sandefur’s attention to detail within the curriculum even extends to tying the classroom work together with the program’s cultural excursions. They recently took a class to see a stage performance of August Wilson’s “Fences,” which they were reading in their literature 200 course at the time.
Another trip brought students to Philadelphia’s Barnes Museum before they watched a documentary about a controversy surrounding the relocation of the museum from Lower Merion to the city.
“The approach is all joined together,” Sandefur said. “It’s intertwined learning. These kinds of things help people to want to continue their education. The goal is to get the veterans to do the best they can for themselves and to always dream big.”
Classes at Veterans Upward Bound are currently in session. The next cycle starts up in January. For contact information and to learn more about the program, visit VUB online at their website.
-Text, Images and Video by Robert Dieckmann and Zachary Rendin.