Inver Hills Breaks Top Five on Best for Vets

Military Times ranks IHCC first in state and third in nation

Inver Hills Community College is ranked number three in the nation and first in Minnesota for two-year colleges on the Military Times Best for Vets: Colleges 2014 rankings. An organization comprising Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times, Military Times placed a new emphasis on academic rigor this year when conducting and scoring the fourth annual Best for Vets: Colleges survey, a highly respected 150-question analysis of a school’s complete offerings for veterans.

“As with all of the Best for Vets rankings, Best for Vets: Colleges is an editorially independent news project that evaluates the many factors that make an institution a good fit for military veterans,” said Amanda Miller, editor of Military Times EDGE.

Sue Flannigan, veterans service coordinator at Inver Hills, reported that veterans as well as active duty military personnel often struggle adjusting to life as college students. “Veteran Services and our Counseling and Advising office have teamed up to make sure our student veterans have an easier time finding success in college,” Flannigan said. “In the military, no one gets left behind—and we consider it our duty to continue that tradition as veterans transition back to civilian life. IHCC has established a comprehensive array of methods to accomplish that goal, including information and referral services to meet the needs of student veterans. The staff, faculty and administrators at IHCC are committed to serving our military students as they work to attain their educational and career goals.”

Best for Vets provides a gauge service men and women can use to judge whether a school or degree program will actually benefit them. The rankings factored in service member enrollment, percentage of tuition covered by the G.I. Bill, and availability of specific programs to help service members.
The extensive evaluation process also factored in statistics commonly used to track student success and academic quality, including student loan default rates, retention rates, graduation rates and student-faculty ratio.

The full rankings include 86 four-year schools, 20 online and nontraditional schools and 14 two-year schools. They are being published in the November 2014 issue of Military Times EDGE magazine, the premier publication for military transition, and online at, as well as,, and

In addition, the top 30 four-year schools, top 10 online and nontraditional schools, and top 10 two-year schools are compared in the issues of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times on newsstands the week of Veterans Day.

Military Times’ series of Best for Vets survey-based rankings include: Colleges, Career & Technical Colleges, Business Schools, Franchises, Employers and Law Enforcement.

About Military Times

The Military Times newsweeklies and digital platforms are the trusted source for independent news and information for service members and their families. The military community relies on Air Force Times, Army Times, Marine Corps Times and Navy Times for reporting on everything important to their lives, including: payroll, benefits, finance, education, health care, recreational resources, retirement, promotions, product reviews and entertainment. Military Times is published by Gannett Government Media. For more information, visit Military Times.

Veterans Lounge Update

“The Veterans Lounge has moved from the Activities building to the Heritage Hall building, Room 303 and 303A,” reported Sue Flannigan, veteran services coordinator. “This is a wonderful space and the students are very grateful, we are already seeing other students in there who didn’t use the old space.”

Student Veteran Perspectives

Ben Botanel
Biology Student

Age: 26
Hometown: Cottage Grove, Minn.
Residence today: Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
Program of study: Biology
Degree pursuing: A.S.
Graduating from Inver Hills: Fall 2014
Branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: Minnesota National Guard
Ben Botanel joined the Minnesota National Guard at age 17 while still a student at Park High School. Trained as a medic, Ben was deployed to Iraq in 2009 with the 204th Area Support Medical Company. He served at Camp Bucca and the U.S. base in Basra. “Life in Iraq was like Ground Hog’s Day,” he said. “You see the same people and do the same things every day. Everything was all the same color, off brown because dust was everywhere. It all blended together.”
An E4, or specialist, in the Guard, Ben was in Iraq for nearly a year. He developed post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, from his wartime experiences. After the military, he took advantage of his G.I. benefits and enrolled in the Biology program at Inver Hills. “I was looking for a new start,” he said. “I like the small class sizes and it’s easier to relate to your teachers than at a big university. Teachers at Inver always respond to your e-mails.”
Ben is president of the V.A.L.O.R. Student Club at the college. V.A.L.O.R. stands for Veterans and Loved One Resources. “V.A.L.O.R. is a new club,” Ben said. “We want to create an environment of open communication, camaraderie and support for veterans, service members and their families, including spouses and children who are attending Inver Hills on the G.I. Bill.”
After earning his A.S. degree at Inver Hills, Ben has plans to attend a four-year university, either Hamline or Concordia, to get a bachelor’s degree in biology. From there, his goal is to go on and become an optometrist. Pacific University Oregon is his first choice of schools to earn his doctorate.
Ben has high praise for Veteran Services at Inver, especially the program’s coordinator, Sue Flannigan. “Sue works very hard for veterans,” he said. “If a vet has a question or concern, Sue will find an answer. She really wants to help vets.”
When he isn’t studying or working in the Veterans Lounge, Ben enjoys playing Pathfinder, a role-playing game. He also likes videogames such as Dark Souls and Mass Effect. He reads neuroscience and fantasy novels, and also does graphite drawings, mostly of people. He’s single and has two brothers, including an older brother in the U.S. Army.

Katie Pilon
Exercise Science Alumna

Age: 28
Hometown: Eagan, Minn.
Residence today: Eagan, Minn.
Program of study: Exercise Science
Degrees earned: A.S. and A.A.
Graduated from Inver Hills: Fall 2013
Branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: U.S. Navy
A 2003 graduate of Eagan High School, Katie Pilon briefly tried out higher ed at Inver Hills before joining the Navy in 2004. She did two four-year enlistments, leaving the service in 2012. “I like water and I like ships,” she said, “and I wanted to travel. I also wanted to drive boats.”

Katie driving boat

Katie got her wish. She started out as an E2, or seaman’s apprentice, and was eventually promoted to BM3, or boatwain’s mate 3. She served aboard USS Enterprise, which gave her the chance to drive a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. She also served aboard USS Forrest Sherman, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, or “small boy,” and drove an LCM, or landing craft mechanized, during a ship-to-shore humanitarian mission to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.
“I was the lead petty officer of my division on the Forrest Sherman,” she said. “We guided in helicopters for refueling.” Katie added that the one thing she misses about the Navy is the ocean. “I found looking at the ocean to be very calming.”
She came back to Inver Hills because she wanted to finish her degree—and she was already accepted, which made the transition easy. “I really like Veteran Services at Inver, too,” said Katie, who continues her work at the Veteran Resource Center on campus. “You never have to worry about your benefits.”

Anti-piracy training

Katie is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management at Concordia University and is on track to graduate in spring 2015. Obtaining a master’s degree is definitely in her future.
“I learned how to manage people in the Navy,” she said, “and I’m interested in the management side of sports. I can see myself as a facilities director, or a parks and rec director in charge of youth sports.”
Katie has a 6-year-old son, Adan, who has a solid relationship with his dad. She plays beer-league softball as well as videogames such as Tetris and Mario Cart. “Adan likes to watch me play Mario Cart,” she said, adding that one of her favorite things to do is hang out with her family.

Ray Kane
Future Registered Nursing Student

Age: 42
Hometown: Eagan, Minn.
Residence today: Cottage Grove, Minn.
Program of study: Applying for Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education (MANE) program spring 2015
Degrees pursuing: A.S. from Inver Hills; Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Metropolitan State University
Graduating : Fall 2019
Branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: U.S. Army Reserve/Minnesota National Guard
Ray Kane graduated from Eagan High School in 1991 and joined the military the same year. As an E5, or sergeant, in the U.S. Army Reserves, Ray went on missions for the Drug Enforcement Agency. “We were subcontracted out to the DEA,” he said. “We were part of the war on drugs and helped agents set up for missions around the country.” He received a Certificate of Appreciation from Pres. George H.W. Bush for his work during that period.
Ray served as a pre-basic trainer while in the Minnesota National Guard. “We would get recruits before they actually enlisted and show them what life is like in the military,” he said, noting that he also was a certified trainer for the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. After 14 years in the service, Ray returned to civilian life and worked in retail at the executive management level. A diabetic for 20 years, Ray received a kidney and pancreas transplant at the Mayo Clinic in November 2012. “My donor was a 41-year-old woman from Georgia,” he said, adding that he was very thankful that so many people opt to become organ donors. “I was on dialysis four hours a day before the transplant—and now I am no longer diabetic. Aside from taking anti-rejection medications, I live a normal life.”
Currently taking his generals at Inver Hills, Ray is applying to the MANE program next year. He finds that his instructors are amazing at giving in-depth feedback. He is also impressed by the teaching process on a two-year college campus. Inspired by his experience at the Mayo Clinic, he wishes to work as a diabetes educator once he becomes a registered nurse. “I want to teach parents about the repercussions of poor diet and not keeping sugars under control during childhood,” he said. “Education is a key factor to staying healthy.”
Ray serves as treasurer in V.A.L.O.R. and is excited about the new Veterans Lounge in Heritage Hall on the Inver Hills campus. “We have a great new area,” he said. “The lounge will be a gathering place for veterans and their families and friends.”
Ray’s wife, Melissa, works as an e-marketing Web specialist at Thomson Reuters. Ray enjoys going to the shooting range and hanging out at his brother’s tattoo shop, Guns N Needles, in Minneapolis.

John Finlay
Fine Art Student

Age: 42
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Residence today: Apple Valley, Minn.
Program of study: Fine Art
Degree pursuing: A.F.A.
Graduating: Spring 2015
Branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: U.S. Marines
Originally from south-central Texas, John Finlay went to Saint Paul Central Senior High. John joined the Marines in 1993. “No member of my family had served in that branch of the service,” he said. “I also didn’t have the loans to go to college.”
John served in the Marines until 2006, reaching the rank of E5, or sergeant. “I wanted to stay in, but you needed to make staff sergeant to do twenty years,” he said. “You had to serve as a recruiter for three years to make E6, but that assignment wasn’t for me.”
John traveled the world as a Marine. He was stationed in Okinawa as well as the Japanese mainland and South Korea. He sailed around the Horn of Africa aboard USS Germantown, a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship, as a member of the 31st MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit, the only MEU continuously forward-deployed. “It took me two weeks to get my sea legs,” he remembered, “and then one week to get my land legs again.”
When he first came to Inver Hills, John was looking at taking courses in IT, but that wasn’t a good fit. He checked out the A.F.A. in Art and fell in love with ceramics. “I had a very positive experience with ceramics right from the start,” he said. “I like how you first put thought into a project and then do the physical work. Working in the ceramics lab really helped me transition to college life—and Wendy Olson, my ceramics instructor, really inspired me.”
John found his introduction to fine art eye-opening. He was amazed by how much he already knew about art and also felt surprised by how much he didn’t know. He plans to continue his education and earn first his B.F.A. and then his M.F.A. His goal is to teach ceramics at the college level.
The A.F.A. pathway proved simple to chart and Veteran Services at Inver Hills have also made things easier for John. Like Ray, he is looking forward to the new Veterans Lounge. He likes how organizations such as the VFW and American Legion come on campus to help out veterans, as do representatives from the VA. “Services like this make all the difference for vets,” he said.
A father of three, two boys and a girl, John enjoys working with ceramics outside of school. He also sews quilts and kilts by machine, builds small engines for bicycles, and does woodworking. “I like seasonal activities,” he said, “including beach volleyball and fly fishing.”

For more information about Veteran Services at Inver Hills Community College, contact:



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