$1 Million Gift from Alumnus Will Help Expand Colorado State University’s New Start Program for Student-Veterans

At one point, Lee Urton thought he might have to give up on his goal of going to college.

The former U.S. Marine, who deployed to Iraq in 2003, was injured and unsure of how to negotiate the red tape that stood between him and a college education. Then he found out about the New Start for Student Veterans Program at Colorado State University.

“I had almost given up on my dream of going to college until I met Cathy Schelly in the New Start program,” Urton said. “New Start has helped me deal with the bureaucracy of veterans’ benefits and has connected me with the resources that I need for academic success. Most importantly, New Start has given me the confidence that I am not in this battle alone.”

Urton, who doesn’t like to discuss the injuries he sustained, has experienced success as a sophomore studying health and exercise science with New Start’s support. New Start is one reason CSU, for the fifth consecutive year, has been has been named a Military Friendly School by GI Jobs magazine, in the company of the top 15 percent of all colleges, universities and trade schools.

Schelly, an assistant professor in CSU’s renowned Department of Occupational Therapy and director of the Center for Community Partnerships, established the New Start program at CSU following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. She knew returning veterans would be seeking college degrees after suffering brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and various physical injuries.

“We’ve always tried to keep a pulse on what’s going on in the world. When I knew we were going to war after 9/11, I also knew that many young men and women were going to get hurt,” Schelly said. “We wanted to prepare CSU to work with these soldiers and help them be successful, in spite of serious injury.”

The program entered a new era in 2012 when alumnus Dennis Repp donated $1,550,000 million to create the New Start for Repp Distinguished Veterans Fund. Repp, a veteran himself, donated an additional $1 million recently to help the program better track the progress of program participants, from college entry to graduation and beyond.

“Dennis is very interested in measuring success and impact,” Schelly said. “He’s very aware and concerned about what’s going on with these young men and women. Through New Start, we want to be leaders here at CSU and help other universities improve their veterans’ programs. This latest gift allows us to support a research director, Aaron Eakman, assistant professor in OT, who will evaluate our interventions and help determine the approaches that work best to foster student veteran success in college. In addition, we are now able to bring on a Ph.D. student and several occupational therapy masters students who will help with program measurement and evaluation activities, ultimately publishing their dissertations and theses on New Start work with student veterans.”

Schelly said the program was helping a handful of veterans when New Start began, but now is working with more than 40 student veterans – with more referrals arriving weekly. Repp’s gift will also help fund additional staffing to better serve student-veterans who have sustained injuries while in the military.

“We’re talking about veterans who have pretty significant things going on – severe brain injuries from repeated exposure to IEDs and psychological effects from horrific battles or loss of a best friend,” Schelly said. “Our focus is on disability and injury, helping veterans be successful despite their injuries.”

Since Repp’s first gift to New Start, the CSU program has helped four student veterans earn undergraduate degrees. In addition, two have completed master’s degrees, and three have entered graduate programs.

“This program is changing lives every day,” Repp said. “Not only are we improving the lives of our injured veterans, but New Start is allowing our CSU students in occupational therapy astonishing opportunities to work and learn.”

The Department of Occupational Therapy is in the College of Health and Human Sciences at CSU.