Ellie and Don Knauss have donated $5 million towards the Texas A&M Veteran Resource and Support Center (VRSC).
The VRSC, which is under the Division of Student Affairs, was opened in the fall of 2012 to provide a range of transition programs for student veterans and their families at A&M. The center will be renamed the Ellie and Don Knauss VRSC in honor of the couple for their donation.
Retired Marine Corps Colonel Jerry Smith, director of the VRSC and Class of 1982, said he has struggled to get the additional manpower and resources required to adequately respond to the needs of student veterans on campus since the center originally opened 8 years ago. However, he said the Knausses’ gift will accelerate the VRSC’s ability to answer those needs.
“We have changed forever in the way we will support veterans on our campus,” Smith said. “We will always be much more prepared to accommodate the surge of veterans and families we see, and to provide the support they need to transition to and through Texas A&M.”
Don Knauss, who served in the Marine Corps, said he and his wife made their donation to help improve the resources and programs available to veterans at A&M in the hope of inspiring other universities to follow suit.
“We’ve always focused on education as the great equalizer of the world,” Knauss said. “I’ve always had this philosophy that everyone should have a fair chance to maximize their God-given ability, and education is the key to that.”
Within their donation, the Knausses allocated $500,000 towards a scholarship matching program to encourage other people to donate scholarships for student veterans. Smith said they have already received their first match from a couple who donated $25,000 to create a new scholarship for a total of $50,000.
Don Knauss said his oldest son and daughter-in-law are former A&M students, so they are familiar with A&M’s rich military history and dedication to selfless service. The Knausses said they were drawn to A&M because the campus’s Core Values are consistent with their own personal values.
“You meet these veterans who are now students, and they are just so impressive,” Ellie Knauss said. “They want to do the right thing, they’ve served their countries — that’s where we get our inspiration.”
Smith said part of the Knausses’ donation will help fund renovations to expand the VRSC’s current space in the lower level of the Memorial Student Center, taking over some of the suites previously occupied by the old Texas A&M Hotel. Smith said he anticipates they will be able to hire additional student workers through the VA work study program once the space’s renovations are complete, bringing the VRSC to a total of at least 20 student workers.
In addition to the student workers, the Center currently has two VA staff members who are assigned to Texas A&M through the Veteran Success on Campus and Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership programs. Smith said these staff members provide rehab and employment help to student veterans, as well as transitional and mental health support.
The VRSC also has additional staff members under the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Admissions and the Academic Success Center.
“The ability to have this extra space lets those people spend more time in the VRSC where they’re in direct contact with student veterans and their family members,” Smith said. “That’s really what we need to operate this transition program more robustly.”
Smith said renovations will begin later this year, and they plan to officially move into the new space by May 2021.