In just a few short years, American Legion Post 326 in Austin, Texas, has provided $44,000 in college scholarships to nearly two dozen honorable discharged veterans.
The Veterans Scholarship Program began in 2013 when two $2,000 scholarships were awarded to veterans attending Texas State University in San Marcos.
Though not the original purpose of the scholarship program, it has given the post an opportunity to introduce The American Legion to a new generation of veterans. In return, many scholarship recipients have become members of the post.
Among the scholarship beneficiaries is Rebecca Larson, currently working on her doctorate in astronomy.
After six years in the Air Force, Larson left to join her family in San Jose, Calif., and to pursue a degree in entrepreneurship with a minor in studio art using her GI Bill. After two years her family moved to Austin and she joined them, transferring to the University of Texas. She could not transfer her credits to the university's business school and changed her major to astronomy, which she soon learned required two years of prerequisite physics.
As she fell in love with astronomy and astrophysics, she wanted desperately to finish her degree in it. That was then when she started looking for alternative funding sources and stumbled upon the Onion Creek post and its Veterans Scholarship Program.
Larson was awarded a scholarship in 2015, which she accepted at a post dinner. It was her first experience with any veterans organization.
“Everyone was so welcoming and supportive and without their help I could not have received my degree,” said Larson, who plans to continue in a scientific research field to understand how galaxies evolve. “The work of this post in helping veterans leaving the military to go to school is one of the most important things being done to help vets get their lives on track in order to succeed in today's world."
Jen Lee, a 10-year Army veteran, is another beneficiary of the post’s scholarship program. He was a student at UT for two years before he learned about the scholarship. An accident left him a paraplegic and he is using his personal challenge as an asset in a career working with adaptive sports training as a coach and instructor.
"I had been working with Student Veteran Services at UT,” he said. “I didn't know anything about The American Legion.”
He learned about the scholarship program from other student vets. Although Lee was using his GI Bill to pay for his education, the bill did not cover some items that were critical to his sports management degree. He used his scholarship funds to cover his travel expenses for internships where he obtained the necessary experience teaching clinics and coaching.
"Without the scholarship, I would have suffered a financial burden," said Lee, who expects to graduate in the fall. “It gave me the opportunity to do the extra work needed for me to achieve my degree and get where I wanted to be.”