By Preston Sparks
For the Opelika Observer
She’s held five different roles in the U.S. Army, achieved the rank of Sergeant E-5, traveled the globe on tours to war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq and has tackled with the best of them as a player in the Women’s National Football Conference.
Meet Amber Grant, a 32-year-old Philadelphia native who has already lived a life full of experiences and yet this spring will add another major accomplishment to her resume – earning her business management degree from Auburn University. Grant, who served more than nine years in active duty military service through 2014, credits Auburn for helping provide a strong foundation toward her ultimate goal of starting her own catering company.
“I considered Auburn because they had a program in entrepreneurship and family business,” Grant said, who has two children, Sonya, 10, and Billy, five, and whose husband Billy also is a veteran. “I want to own my own restaurant/catering company as my long-term goal. So, when I saw that Auburn had an entrepreneurship program I knew that Auburn was where I wanted to be. Also, I made my decision because of the Veterans Resource Center (at Auburn) because they offer a home away from home for veterans.”
Such firm support of veteran students is a hallmark of the Auburn experience, and recently the university once again received accolades for those efforts by being named a Military Friendly School for 2019-2020, a list to be published in the May edition of G.I. Jobs Magazine. The high ranking comes as no surprise to Grant.
“I agree that Auburn is a military-friendly school, and the honor is well deserved,” Grant said. “I would rank Auburn’s friendliness when it comes to veteran students among the best around because the staff in the VRC always go above and beyond to ensure veterans are taken care of whenever they come in the office. Also, the professors are extremely helpful when it comes to assisting with accommodations that some veterans may need.”
Auburn is one of just 766 schools nationwide to receive the designation, which was based on extensive research using public data sources from more than 8,800 schools nationwide, input from student veterans and responses to a survey of participating institutions. Ratings combine survey scores with the assessment of an institution’s ability to meet thresholds for student retention, graduation, job placement, loan repayment, degree advancement or transfer and loan default rates for all students and, specifically, for student veterans.
Paul “Puck” Esposito, director of the Auburn’s VRC center and retired Navy captain, said it is great to have Auburn listed as a Military Friendly School but his office works hard daily to go even further, providing service above and beyond the standards of such rankings and offering a “holistic approach” for the military clients they serve.
“There’s so much more to it that doesn’t go into that rating that we offer,” Esposito said, adding that everyone on his office’s staff has past military experience or is the spouse of a veteran.
According to a brochure about the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center, or AUVRC, which services a total of 1,100 clients, the center’s mission is to “assist, transition and support veterans, guardsmen, reservists, active duty, military dependents and survivors who receive federal Veteran Affairs educational benefits in all aspects of benefits, both campus and community.”
The center offers tutoring services, a student textbook library, an annual veterans golf classic and even a professional clothing locker with dress clothes available to help military students better prepare for interviews or presentations.
“They can come in and pull from the clothing locker and if they need it, they can keep it,” said Meg Ford Alexander, a 1986 Auburn graduate who is a VA certifying official and outreach coordinator in the Veterans Resource Center.
Alexander said a major part of the center’s appeal is how it reconnects those who have or are currently serving in the military.
“We’re a big family uniting that population,” Alexander said.
And that is perhaps seen nowhere better than with Grant, who not only uses the services of Auburn’s VRC but also works there.
“The VRC offers tutoring services for veterans, a place to meet for group projects, a place to study, resume assistance, VA benefits assistance, financial services and computer access,” Grant said. “The biggest benefit that I feel the center offers veterans is a place to call home and an atmosphere where we can express ourselves amongst people who have had similar experiences.”
The center even offers an Auburn Warrior Orientation and Learning, or A.W.O.L., program, which provides a veteran-specific orientation session that helps military students not only find their classes but also with such resources as financial aid. The Veterans Resource Center participates with, among other programs, the post 9/11 G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program.
Additionally, military students can follow the AUVRC on Facebook (@Auburnvrc) and can become members of the Auburn Student Veterans Association, or ASVA, which is a chapter of Student Veterans of America, or SVA. The 501(c)3 group represents veterans transitioning from prior military service into higher education.
Grant says such support is crucial for veterans, and she plans to continue assisting Auburn’s VRC even after she graduates, adding “I love Auburn because of the family feel that you get when you come to Auburn. Also the bonds that you make with a diverse group of people and the network that you build.”
Beyond her plans as an entrepreneur and her past in the military, Grant has another goal in mind as well that involves a different type of team effort. Grant is now entering her third season on the Atlanta Phoenix team in the Women’s National Football Conference. As an offensive lineman and the team’s logistics manager, she said she is having fun putting all of her many skills to good use.