FRCC student shines light on inclusion for vets and gives them a place to belong.
Tim Watson came to Front Range Community College to make a change.
The US Navy veteran served for 20 years—stationed around the country and completing 18 deployments on submarines. After that, he spent six years as an educational officer at Naval Base Kitsap outside of Seattle.
But in 2022, he decided it was time to try something new.
Back to School
Colorado is home—Tim was born and raised here and went to Western State College for a year before enlisting in the Navy. Last year, he moved to Westminster to be close to family and started browsing programs at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus.
FRCC was a natural choice for Tim to return to college and start his next life chapter—in fact, he didn’t look anywhere else.
“My mom worked at FRCC for years before she retired and my grandmother lived across the street from the Westminster Campus when I was a kid,” he says. “Once I was back in Colorado and thinking of putting my GI Bill to use, FRCC was the first college to come to mind.”
Bachelor’s Degree in Geospatial Science
Tim started the Bachelor of Applied Science in Geospatial Science at FRCC in August 2022. “Gathering data and analyzing it is what I did in the Navy,” he says. “It seems like this degree will allow me to work in an area like natural resources or search and rescue, both of which rely on geographic information systems.”
“I also liked that I could pursue a bachelor’s degree at FRCC, which has smaller class sizes and a really comfortable feel.”
Finding a Community of Veterans
After getting settled into his course work, Tim’s next order of business was to get to know other veterans on campus. “I reached out to the veterans success coach for the Student Veterans Organization on campus. I went to a meeting only to learn that the group hadn’t been very active since the pandemic,” he says.
In fact, that first meeting only had three people in attendance: Tim, fellow student Jaén Chávez, and Kimberley Millette (the veteran success coach).
That didn’t deter Tim. He and Jaén breathed new energy into the club and started spreading the word to encourage other people to join. Tim, Jaén and another student, Paige Elliot, formalized the organization—and Tim became its vice president.
Together they reached out to FRCC’s Office of Equity & Inclusion. They wanted to make sure veterans were on the radar as a group that might feel excluded or forgotten.
An Active, Growing Group
As the 2022-2023 school year wound down earlier this month, the Boulder County Campus Student Veterans Organization—sometimes referred to as simply SVO—closed out the year with almost 20 members.
“It’s been really great,” Tim says. “We have members from all branches except the Coast Guard and the Space Force.”
“It’s not always easy to come out of the military. This organization gives students who served our country a place where they can share common experiences and make friends.”
Helping Other Vets
But the organization isn’t just a social group. Some SVO members (from all three FRCC campuses) have been volunteering regularly for the Veterans Community Project. They help build communities of tiny homes—called VCP Villages—to provide transitional support for homeless veterans.
The VCP Village in Longmont is almost complete, and will offer 26 houses for veterans. They come in two models— one single occupancy, the other for vets with families. The village will also have a community center to help veterans with everything from career coaching to finding counseling for substance abuse to navigating Veterans Administration benefits.
Honored With a 2023 Student Excellence Award
In part because of this service work, the Colorado Community College System named the Boulder County Campus Student Veterans Organization as the recipient of its Inclusive Excellence Champion Award. The SVO’s leaders have made significant efforts this year to make the group feel like home for all veterans.
CCCS described the club as one that broadens the community, resources and viewpoints of student veterans. “We want veterans of any ethnicity or gender identity to feel welcome,” Tim says.
What Memorial Day Means to Tim
For Tim, Memorial Day is an important time to honor those who lost their lives while fighting for our country—but he says it’s also a reminder to himself to take care of veterans who are still with us.
“As a veteran, I remember our fallen on Memorial Day, and I also think about what I can do as someone who did come back from service,” Tim says.
Being a Part of Something Important
“Many veterans left a part of themselves out on the battlefield and return from active duty with mental health challenges and grief, yet they are expected to move forward with their lives.”
Although his motivation to reenergize the SVO at Boulder County Campus was a personal one, Tim says he couldn’t be happier that the club has become a place of community for veterans on campus. “I was new to FRCC, returning to college after 26 years, and I hadn’t lived in Colorado for the same amount of time,” he says.
“I was looking to meet people and be a part of something. The fact that this group helps other veterans feel like they’re a part of something too is even better.”
What Tim’s Doing on Monday
On Memorial Day, Tim and others from the Veterans Community Project—including a few other Student Veterans Organization members—will run the BOLDERBoulder 10k. He will join others after the race at CU Boulder’s Folsom Field to pay tribute BOLDERBoulder style to those who fought to protect our country and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect its freedom.
But Tim says that he thinks every day about those heroes—as well as those he can still help.
“There are things we can do to prevent the loss of veterans’ lives to suicide or poor health due to homelessness,” he says. “I try to show my appreciation to those who died for our country by serving those who came back.”
“To me, that seems like the best way to show my appreciation.”