Student startup helps veterans with transition to college

Matt McCall has been there. He knows what it’s like.

Now, with help from GreenvilleSEED@ECU, he’s working to help other veterans make the transition from the military to college.

McCall, who joined the Marines in 2007, deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was honorably discharged in 2013, said he spent a lot of time in the tutoring lab after enrolling in Coastal Carolina Community College’s pre-engineering program.

“I had a lot of knowledge gaps, especially in math, chemistry and physics,” he said. “A tutor told me I could get some of the tutoring cost reimbursed through the G.I. Bill.”

With the tutoring help, his grades improved, and he began tutoring other vets who needed help.

“I also helped them file their reimbursement paperwork,” McCall said. “Word spread, and within a couple months I had five students, so I started looking for other veterans and veteran spouses at the school who wanted to be tutors.”

With help from GreenvilleSEED@ECU, Matt McCall (right) has started a company that helps veterans like Michael Kohn transition to college. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

With help from GreenvilleSEED@ECU, Matt McCall (right) has started a company that helps veterans like Michael Kohn transition to college. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Now enrolled in East Carolina University’s biomedical engineering program, McCall has started Beyond Tutoring, a company centered on veterans tutoring other vets. He enlisted the help of Katie Thomas, a fellow Marine and tutor.

“Since the tutors are veterans and spouses, they’re able to relate to the students’ struggles well, especially relocating, anxiety and feeling out of place,” he said. “Our common ground helps break down barriers to learning.”

Student Michael Kohn, an undergraduate business management student at ECU, said the difference in lifestyle coming from the military to college can present a challenge, and it can be intimidating working with other students who haven’t had the same experiences.

“You’re not used to the mentality, the way of thinking and working though problems, the homework,” he said. “So having someone who’s been through what I’m going through, telling me how to work through the system, was a big help.”

Kohn said McCall showed him how to organize papers and manage his time.

“Working in the Army, every day is the same thing,” he said. “Matt helped show me how I could take the discipline I learned in the Army and be disciplined in a new way, apply it to the new area.”

McCall joined GreenvilleSEED@ECU to get help refining his business plan and his pitch, and to learn how to scale up the business. GreenvilleSEED@ECU is a partnership between the City of Greenville, the Greenville-Pitt Chamber of Commerce and ECU providing flexible operating space, business expertise and other resources to entrepreneurs.

“As a student entrepreneur, he is juggling the demands of classwork and building a business,” said John Ciannamea of ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development. “Our staff has assisted Matthew with business introductions, vetting ideas and evaluating corporate development issues. His base platform is now well positioned for expansion in the market.”

Beyond Tutoring now has eight tutors and has assisted more than 60 students, 23 of whom are disabled veterans. McCall has also received assistance and advice from ECU’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the Office of Technology Transfer and the Pitt County Small Business and Technology Development Center.

McCall said his next goal is to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to streamline the reimbursement process. It can take months for a student to get reimbursement for the cost of tutoring. One possibility is to create an online form to speed up the process.

“If we can figure out how to get them their money back in a few days instead of five months,” he said, “they’d be more free to get the help they need. … We’ve already gone through the tough parts of transitioning into college, and we can help our students navigate the education system and get the most out of the benefits they earned.

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-by Jules Norwood