Helping veterans acclimate to higher learning with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities
September 24, 2021
Beyond any action he takes in life, serving others is paramount to James Dubinsky.
An associate professor in the Department of English, Dubinsky carries another title: retired lieutenant colonel with more than 28 years of military experience in the U.S. Army.
Dubinsky has led many initiatives at Virginia Tech. He’s the founding director of VT Engage and co-founder of the Veterans in Society Initiative at Virginia Tech. The initiative began hosting conferences in 2013 to raise awareness of the complexities of veterans’ lives.
In 2016, Veterans in Society received an assist from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host a summer institute focused on helping educators answer a question: What does it truly mean to be a veteran?
“We brought faculty from nine different academic disciplines together for one of the few faculty summer institutes that focused on this crucial topic,” said Dubinsky.
In 2018, the agency asked Dubinsky to join a panel, on which he served alongside Lela Hilton, executive director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities. The nonprofit organization helps low-income adults improve their academic skills through humanities courses.
Connecting with Hilton on the panel sparked a partnership centered on helping veterans in need.
Hilton sought help from Dubinsky in establishing a new Clemente Course program specifically for veterans. Dubinsky recruited Trevor Stewart, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech School of Education, and a Virginia Tech alumna, Crystal Kyle, to aid in the project. Kyle earned her doctorate in agricultural leadership and community education in 2018.
Dubinsky, Stewart, and Kyle, who are all veterans, developed a writing assessment project for Clemente Course educators and students.
“As we worked on this project, I kept saying to myself, we ought to host a Clemente site for veterans and their families at Virginia Tech,” said Dubinsky. “The Clemente initiative is in line with Virginia Tech’s motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and the mission of our Center for Humanities.”
Dubinsky and Hilton joined with Jack Cheng, a Clemente Course colleague based in Boston, to apply for grant funding through the National Endowment for the Humanities in the fall of 2020.
The agency awarded the team with a grant to establish and run courses for veterans in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area and Boston. In addition to instructing veterans through the humanities, Dubinsky said the courses will include a service component.
“In my experience, service learning and civic engagement are important elements of veteran education,” said Dubinsky.
Students can enroll in the course for college credit at no cost. Dubinsky said the National Endowment for the Humanities grant will enable the course to offer students free childcare, books, meals, and computers.
Dubinsky said he hopes to attract a wide range of veterans to the program, such as first-generation students.
“This is a great way of getting people interested in and comfortable with learning at the college level,” said Dubinsky. “Our top priority is to provide an accessible and accommodating program for veterans in this region.”
Through the two-year grant, the team will spend the summer and fall laying the groundwork for the course. Dubinsky said he plans to speak with veterans’ organizations in the area to raise awareness of the initiative. He will also work with the Center for Humanities and veterans’ organizations to find the best location for the program.
Course instruction will begin in the spring of 2022 and continue in the fall, with a third course slated for the following spring.
Dubinsky founded Veterans in Society with Bruce Pencek, college librarian for social science and history in University Libraries.
The initiative “calls attention to the value of understanding the rich diversity among veterans, military families, and their interactions with civilian societies,” according to the Veterans in Society website.
Veterans in Society has hosted multiple conferences and connected with veterans and veterans’ organizations across the country.
Most recently, the organization hosted “Conversations in Veterans Studies” along with the Veterans Studies Association to promote a more nuanced discussion about veteranology.
Dubinsky said he’s thrilled to continue the tradition of service at Virginia Tech.
“On a personal note,” he said, “I can’t think of anything better to do with my time than using my experience and knowledge to serve others, particularly veterans and their families.”
Written by Andrew Adkins