By Joseph Poulos
Grand Rapids Community College appointed Patrick Coleman, a 13-year Army veteran, to be the new Veterans Success Coordinator.
Coleman, whose appointment was announced Wednesday, Sept. 22, is well-versed in veterans’ affairs and advising. In addition to his dedicated service, he also spent over a decade with Michigan Works!, a job-seeking agency which assists the unemployed in learning in-demand skills while setting them up with employers.
“Grand Rapids Community College has taken significant steps to demonstrate its readiness for a smooth transition of service members of all branches, for veterans and their dependents to the campus community,” Coleman said.
Before joining the Veterans Center at GRCC, Coleman was a business-community liaison with the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center, where he became the executive director of the 70×7 Life Recovery program. While there, Coleman helped citizens returning from incarceration get reintegrated into society.
“It is a re-entry program for returning citizens after they leave prison,” he said. “It is refamiliarization with formerly incarcerated people to reacclimate into their communities. They come through 70×7 to get the right training in order to go back home in their neighborhoods and become productive. It was an enjoyable experience. Being at Fort Dix and Fort Leavenworth, I had some experience with returning citizens, but they were incarcerated veterans.”
Coleman plans to bring his passion for service into his new role at the Veterans Center. Coleman said his goal is to make the Veterans Center a place where veterans can go for help with challenges ranging from academic to personal.
When it comes to veterans’ transitions from military service to college, Coleman understands the difficulties our soldiers face upon returning to regular life.
“I’m here to help our veterans after they leave the service; anything they need,” he said. “Being a veteran myself, I learned there was a lot to navigate when I began my college education. There were no clear instructions on how to transition from combat to college. I can help them get around any detours they encounter. I’m the resource guy!”
Coleman came to GRCC in 2020 after a post in state government. In addition to his practical and seasoned experiences in the Army, Coleman will also draw upon his organizational abilities. Though he felt overwhelmed during the transition from military to college, he now seeks to ease the burden on veterans coming into college. Coleman remains steadfast and inspired in his role to assist veterans.
“If I can help a student veteran succeed, my job is done,” he said.
For Coleman, it starts with understanding just what our veterans go through.
“Stephen Covey said ‘seek first to understand then to be understood’,” Coleman said. “(We need) to understand where our veterans are coming from… the veterans are the ones who afforded you the opportunity to sleep well at night.”
Coleman said he finds meaning in helping others who are going through some of the hardships he has dealt with himself.
“The opportunity to help veterans, young, middle and old succeed (is my goal),” Coleman said. “Here’s something that I implemented at Fort Sill. I wrote resumes for soldiers who were leaving. They never had a placement office where they helped you. That was not a stop on your transition out of service. That should be a mandatory stop, just like you have to turn in your uniforms and get your last physical, you should go and spend some time in a placement office getting your resume together, cover letters, dress codes and everything like that. From 1982 to 1995, they did not have that.”
The U.S. Education Department awarded GRCC a grant to create the Veterans Center in January 2021. It will handle planning and delivering any services to students who have served in the armed forces. The center will connect veterans with all the resources available to them on the GRCC campus, including financial aid, advising and disability support. It will also seek to further GRCC’s existing partnerships with state and local veterans’ agencies.
Coleman’s longtime devotion to community outreach and service will likely serve him well as Veterans Success Coordinator. More than 400 GRCC students currently take advantage of existing veterans services. College administrators hope to grow that number to more than 500 in three years.
Since he was a young man, Coleman has always wanted to give back to the community.
“The only thing that keeps coming to mind is making a difference,” Coleman said.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Coleman saw helping folks in need as the only way to give back to the community.
“You can’t dream big,” he said. “You don’t know whether or not you’re going to eat that night. So lawyer, doctor, astronaut, that’s not on your mind. It took my mother and father to let us know ‘whatever you set your mind to, you can do that’. I saw the astronauts on TV. I saw Doogie Howser, and I never (considered doing that). I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to make an impact.”