The opening of a new veterans wing at Tipton Correctional Center has created a way for the Veterans Upward Bound program at the University of Central Missouri to extend services to a group of former military members who face challenges in pursuit of a postsecondary education.

According to a press release from UCM, new initiatives aimed specifically at inmates at the Tipton correctional facility are being pursued under the leadership of Tonya Kuranda, director of Veterans Upward Bound Funded Program Services at UCM.

Kuranda, who also is an Air Force veteran who served in Operation Enduring Freedom, said the UCM Veterans Upward Bound program is one of only two such programs in the state. It will reportedly become the first to provide services to qualified veterans who are preparing for life after their release from prison.

Kuranda said the kind of “outside-the-box” thinking that went into developing this new initiative came after she was approached by prison administrators while participating at a community college job and recruitment fair in Sedalia earlier this spring.

After learning more about the new veterans’ wing, Kuranda said she and prison leadership saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of individuals who were looking at a departure date from conviction and want to be better prepared to pursue vocational training or another form of postsecondary education upon their release.

After considering the possibilities, Kuranda set up a mass briefing with Tipton’s inmates who have prior military service and shared information about Veterans Upward Bound’s mission and what the program could offer them.

Veterans Upward Bound was established at UCM in the fall of 2017 with help from a $1.3 million federal grant. It is designed to serve veterans in a 10-county region to develop academic and other requisite skills they need for acceptance and success in a program of post-secondary education. It is one of three federal TRIO program offered at UCM, but the only one of the three that offers benefits to individuals who are not enrolled at the university, according to the press release.

“We serve 125 veterans per year with two-thirds being low income and first generation students,” Kuranda said.

She added that her immediate goal in launching a program at Tipton Correctional Center is to conduct a needs assessment to learn more about the types of programs that Veterans Upward Bound can deliver in the prison environment. In some instances, programs could vary and include workshops that would help incarcerated veterans in areas such as mathematics, college planning, academic skills and career interest assessment and more depending on levels of interest.

Kuranda pointed out there are still technology issues and other areas that must be worked out as Veterans Upward Bound continues to work with these students. She said at least 26 individuals have already filled out applications seeking support. All of them are eligible to pursue veterans benefits that are applicable to their education while they are incarcerated. Correctional facility administrators will require any veteran who wants to receive assistance to be located in the new veterans’ dormitory.

Veterans who will be able to take advantage of Upward Bound could have anywhere from six months to five years left to serve out their sentence, but all have an end date in sight, according to Kuranda.

Sean Farmer, functional unit manager for Tipton Correctional Center, described how the Veterans Upward Bound initiative aligns with the purpose and goals of the Veterans’ Dorm.

“The mission of the Missouri Department of Corrections is ‘Improving Lives for Safer Communities.’ The goal of the Veterans’ Dorm at Tipton Correctional Center is to do just that,” he said. “We know that the incarcerated veteran population has certain resources available to them because of their prior service. By allowing the veteran population to live together in one unit, these resources can provide them services more efficiently and the offenders can serve as resources to each other by sharing their common background.”

He added, “Programs like Veterans Upward Bound certainly improve the lives of our incarcerated veterans by providing assistance with their educational goals. They are allowing our offenders to pursue not only college course work but vocational programs as well. These opportunities will greatly improve their changes and finding meaningful employment upon release, which in turn reduces the risk of recidivism.”

UCm says Veterans Upward Bound is a free educational program designed specifically to serve the needs of today’s veterans. Its mission is to serve veterans by providing the tools needed to enter and succeed in postsecondary education programs. It offers a  range of services in an effort to help prepare participants for academic enrichment, whether that education is at a two- or four-year college or a vocational or technical school.

For more information about Veterans Upward Bound, call Tonya Kuranda at 660-543-4785.

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