Helping vets succeed motivates Teri Smith
Teri Smith recalls how someone once told her, “The best definition of success is your ability to create opportunities for others to improve their lives.” As an RCC veterans’ advisor, Smith gets to put that adage into practice.
“Although I don’t directly create opportunities for students, my favorite part of my work at Rogue is supporting students in their pursuit of academic goals and watching them discover the opportunities that are available to them.
Smith started at Rogue in 2006 as a transition specialist in the college’s Individualized Career Training (ICT) Department and then moved into her current position as a veterans’ advisor on the RCC Riverside Campus. Prior to joining RCC she worked more than 10 years as a transition specialist at a local high school.
More than 500 military veterans are enrolled at RCC, about 60 percent of them in Jackson County. Among them is Army vet Craig Gabbert, who credits Smith with helping him stay on an even keel and take care of business.
“She’s always helping me out with the agencies, sticking up for me and encouraging me. Teri is great to work with.”
Smith enjoys working with vets as they begin a new life chapter.
“Helping students learn how to navigate the process of attending college is rewarding, especially when I’ve had a small part in encouraging their progress,” she said.
Inspired by son's birth, Army vet builds new life at RCC
When Craig Gabbert started attending Rogue Community College, he enrolled in a college success class that helped build his self-confidence.
“The teacher said ‘Keep coming back and doing the work.’ I did. I learned about scheduling time and about self-affirmations,” Gabbert said. “And I learned about setting goals and how to break big goals into smaller ones. I realized I’d never set a goal.”
That Human Development course helped Gabbert get off to a good start, and now he has both educational and career goals. He’s also earned a 3.8 grade point average that includes an A+ in Psychology of Human Relations.
But school wasn’t always Gabbert’s thing. Originally from Eugene, he dropped out of high school his junior year. He later earned a high school diploma at Lane Community College in order to join the army, and served with the U.S. Army Airborne Rangers from 1993 to 1998, including a stint in the Middle East.
After leaving the service, Gabbert hit hard times, struggling with drug addiction, homelessness, and legal problems. The approaching birth of his son, however, inspired Gabbert to get clean and build a new life. He and partner Marissa have a son, Rayden, and Gabbert lights up when talking about his boy, who just celebrated his first birthday.
“He is what drives me to be successful,” Gabbert said. Teri Smith, RCC Veterans Advisor at the Riverside Campus, helps him stay focused and on track.
“I panic when the stars aren’t aligned right. But I visit Teri and she helps me settle down and see that things will be all right,” Gabbert explained. “She’s always helping me out with agencies, sticking up for me and encouraging me. She’s great to work with.”
Gabbert says RCC's supportive instructors and smaller classes have been helpful and inspired his educational goal — to transfer to Southern Oregon University and earn a bachelor’s degree.
Gabbert, who recalls an abusive early childhood, was adopted at age 6 by “great people I deeply love.” But he had lots of anger, started abusing alcohol at 14, using drugs at 16, and was in and out of trouble and lock ups. It wasn’t until a judge told him to use his Veterans Administration resources – and Gabbert took that advice to heart – that things started to change for the better.
“I did a 180, decided to stop using and indulging in a pity party, and started taking responsibility for my actions,” Gabbert said. Now his career goal is working for the Veterans Administration and helping vets deal with homelessness and addictions.
“The VA has really made a big difference in my life,” he explained. “College would have been a lot harder without their help. Until the last two years the Army had been the best time in my life. I loved the structure. The last two years have been a lot of hard work but really fulfilling,” he said.
“Family is very important,” Gabbert added. “I want to be there for my son and give him the childhood I never had.”
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