Renovations, expanded veteran programs and an endowment for maintenance are a few changes coming to Texas A&M University’s Veteran Resource and Support Center, all thanks to a $5 million donation from Ellie and Don Knauss.
The gift also prompted the facility to be renamed the Don and Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource and Support Center. The VRSC is part of the Division of Student Affairs.
Retired Marine Col. Jerry Smith, director of the VRSC, said he and one other person started the center in 2012, and through a “fairly slow and methodical” process they built it up to the 33-employee institution it is today. The center started by helping the campus’ 600 veterans. Today, VRSC serves 1,300 people through more than 20 programs that guide students to a field of study and helps them transition to student life. The center also opens doors to financial and academic assistance, along with networkingopportunities.
The donation, Smith said, will help the center grow its programs and become the optimal place for veterans to seek a higher education.
“Now we have this very significant donation from the Knausses, and all of a sudden we have a lot of new opportunity to realign programming and put the right staff and students in place to really make Texas A&M the destination of choice for student veteran success,” Smith said.
One million dollars will be retained as a facility endowment for maintenance, $1 million will be directed to an excellence fund to provide money for on-campus veteran programs, and $500,000 will be used as matching funds for new veteran scholarships, according to a Texas A&M Foundation pressrelease.
Renovating a permanent home for the center will be made possible with $2.5 million of the donation. Currently, the center is operating out of a 5,500 square-foot office in the Memorial Student Center on A&M’s campus. Smith said the donation will help the VRSC revamp what used to be hotel suites in the MSC to meet the center’s needs.
The new location will be 10,000 square feet and will include a library area, a veterans lounge and office and meeting space, Smith said. VRSC should be moved into the renovated area by May 2021, he added.
The Knausses, who are from Sugar Land, first connected with A&M through their eldest son and his wife, who both graduated from the university in 2010, according to the press release. Don Knauss said in the release that his time in the U.S. Marines as an artillery officer, eventually rising to the rank of captain, played a role in feeling close to Aggieland and the center.
“Being former military, I felt strongly connected to Texas A&M after I witnessed the tremendous support the university is giving to veterans,” Don Knauss said in the release.
Before this donation, the Knausses had given more than $2 million for 28 endowed student veteran scholarships.
Ellie Knauss said in the release that she and Don are sure the center will put their donation to good use.
“All of this comes down to people,” Ellie Knauss said. “When you meet someone like Jerry and his team, who have such a passion to make a difference, you understand why people want to give. It’s a personal belief that your support is going to make a difference.”
Smith said the donation comes at an especially useful time, since VRSC has already been growing quickly and leaders anticipate a potential surge in veteran enrollment.
He said the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there will be 5.1 million veterans who were on active duty after 9/11 by 2021. Sixty-eight percent of those veterans do not have a bachelor’s degree, and 13% are using the GI Bill, since many went directly to work after leaving the military due to the previously strong economy. Now, Smith said, many may be unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and college could be where they turn.
As the center grows, Smith said he is grateful for the Knausses and the support from the Division of Student Affairs.
“Because of donors like the Knausses,” Smith said, “we have unmatched ability and opportunity to create student success.”
For more information on the center, visit aggieveterans.tamu.edu.