Supporting veterans on campus

Miramar student veteran Amor Carchano helps sort fresh vegetables during a JetFuel food distribution event. (Photos: David Brooks)

As military men and women transition from active duty, they often ask themselves “What’s next?” Many community colleges across the country have the supports to help with that transition. For example, the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), through various support services and workforce training programs, has positioned itself as a leader in helping veterans on the next step of their journey.

Whether looking to capitalize on GI Bill benefits, which help with tuition and provide book stipends and a housing allowance, or entering workforce training programs to help turn military experience into job skills that more easily translate to a new career, San Diego City, Mesa and Miramar colleges, as well as the San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE) have various programs and dedicated classified staff to support active duty military, veterans and military families. In fact, the SDCCD serves approximately 6,000 such students.

Driven to serve others

For U.S. Navy veteran Amor Carchano, he wanted a college where he could study computer programming. A visit to Miramar College and he was hooked. For Carchano, going to college was more than taking classes and getting good grades; he also wanted to give back to his military brothers and sisters, and his fellow students. 

Carchano, who came to the college in 2019, is enrolled in the information sciences program and plans to transfer to a four-year college. After earning a bachelor’s degree, Carchano hopes to work in higher education, specifically in support services. 

In his free time, Carchano helps run the campus food pantry, Jet Fuel, and is president of the Student Veteran Organization (SVO). As part of the SVO, he makes it his goal to share campus resources, including Disability Support Programs and Services (DSPS), financial aid and how to get involved in campus life, with student vets who may not know what is available to them while at Miramar.

“I want to teach veterans how to network with their colleagues and professors because the more doors you open, the more successful you will be,” Carchano said.

One-stop center

Mesa College Veterans Success Center and Records Supervisor Vicki Hernandez has been working with military students for more than 15 years. She has seen military students struggle as they transition from active duty to active student, and she strives to help them succeed. The college recently opened a new campus Veterans Center that is nearly three-times the size of the former space and provides classroom space, meeting rooms, lounge areas and state-of-the-art technology for students. 

“The veterans have given so much to their country; they deserve a place on campus to call home that will set them up for success,” Hernandez said. “Our new center will be a one-stop shop — from academic counseling to career services, to a place to relax with students who are just like them.”

At the Veterans Center at Mesa College, Vicki Hernandez (center) helps connect students with various resources to help them transition from community college to four-year universities and/or civilian jobs and careers.

When it comes to her students, her philosophy is “to go above and beyond,” like organizing a virtual recognition of graduating student vets during the Covid pandemic. Hernandez said that it showed her students that the staff cares about them as they transition from community college to four-year universities and/or jobs and careers.

Simplifying processes

City College is also leading the charge for its student vets. Dora Meza, the college’s military and veteran student support services supervisor, is taking an opportunity during the pandemic to redesign how to best serve the college’s military population.  She said that her role is to simplify processes for veterans, and to advocate for them. Some of the support programs she oversees and tries to improve include academic advising, bringing disability services and students together, holding events for employers to meet with students, and certifying students’ classes.

Since military dependents and veteran students need class certification to maintain housing benefits, it is imperative the processes run efficiently and effectively.   

“For me, it is all about the students,” Meza said. “I want them to know their concerns matter and I want to meet them where they are.”

Enhanced services

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Mario Sanders credits the Continuing Education’s Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) classes, which are open-entry/open-exit enrollment programs, for his success as student. Sanders, who was involved in a motor vehicle collision in 2016, is completing the requirements for transfer to a kinesiology program at a university and hopes to become a physical therapist where he can give back to fellow veterans.

In addition to the ABI program that has helped injured vets, among other students, SDCCE also offers various trade programs where student veterans can to use their GI Bill to get the skills they need to be job-ready. Some of those programs popular among student veterans include automotive technician, auto body and paint technician, automotive service advisor and shielded metal arc welding.

“Kudos to SDCCE for giving me the confidence to start a degree program; it is because of them that I know I can do this,” Sanders said.

About the Author

Holly Shaffner
is a freelancer for the San Diego Community College District in California.
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