A daylong event sponsored by the American Veterans (AMVETS) in partnership with California State University, Dominguez Hills, recently highlighted the campus’s mission of creating a veteran-friendly campus for first-time and returning students who are dealing with not only college life but transitioning back to a civilian lifestyle as well. University Outreach and Information Services and Enrollment Management and Student Affairs hosted “Every Day is Veterans’ Day” on April 13 in the Loker Student Union with a variety of on- and off-campus resources for potential students to explore and gain information. The keynote speakers were John Fisher, senior service officer, and Wiley Buffington, service officer, from the Los Angeles regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Patricia Enyekwe, outreach officer at CSU Dominguez Hills, says that University Outreach and Information Services visits military bases throughout Southern California to introduce veterans to the range of services and welcoming environment they will find at CSU Dominguez Hills.
“By introducing veterans to the university environment, we hope to equip them with the skill sets [needed] to survive the peace after having served our country in war,” Enyekwe says. “Exposing the veterans to the opportunities that abound at CSU Dominguez Hills serves as a reminder to them that it is never too late to get an education.”
Participants included representatives of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Closet and Housing, the Employment Development Department, The Soldiers Project, and the AMVET Legal Clinic. A number of campus services participated in the event, including the College of Extended and International Education, the Office of Veterans’ Affairs, Veterans Alliance, and the Office of Student Life.
Lui Amador, coordinator of the Multicultural Center on campus, served in the Marines from 1989 to 1995. He pointed out the fact that often the thought processes of military veterans are very different from those of other students when approaching a task. While showing off the newly opened Veteran Student Programs office in the Loker Student Union, he underscored the importance of providing veteran students with services tailored to their specific needs, as well as a safe environment for them to support each other through the struggles of reentry to civilian life as a college student.
“We met with some counselors from The Soldiers’ Project,” he said of preparations to provide the space for veteran students. “These are licensed psychologists that do wonderful work with veterans. A lot of what they talked about was one-on-one counseling. I raised my hand and said, ‘I don’t think a lot of my buddies would have opted for that. What they would do is hang out together. They would sit together, maybe with a facilitator, and they would talk to other veterans.’”
“That really framed my approach to this,” Amador said. “If we can offer that space here and create an environment that’s supportive and inclusive, we’re going to make that a priority.”
Sonja Daniels, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, said that the new facility symbolizes the university’s commitment to providing the best possible experience for student veterans.
“Ultimately this new office, and our campus partners that helped in its development, is about supporting veteran student success at CSU Dominguez Hills,” she said. “This space, along with staff and student support, will provide veterans with a community environment for processing their educational benefits paperwork, getting involved with student organizations, mentoring opportunities, the ability to meet with community partners that serve veterans, and provide the opportunity for the campus to interact and learn more about our veterans.”
A panel discussion by members of Veterans Alliance put a face on today’s student veteran at the “Veterans Day” event. Christian Somoza served two tours in Iraq and completed his duty in the Marines as a sergeant. Upon returning home, he began to pursue his education at Cerritos College before transferring to CSU Dominguez Hills.
“When I first went to school, I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” said the psychology major. “When I got out of the military, I realized that I wanted to help people and I wanted to help veterans. Veterans coming back from Iraq don’t feel like too many people understand [them] because they didn’t have that same experience. I want to be that person and lend a shoulder to those people.”
Somoza is assisting Dr. Carl Sneed, associate professor of psychology, with his research on adolescents and sexual behavior. In addition, Somoza, who is a McNair Scholar, is working on a project that examines post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Recent advances in psychology have really brought attention to post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “It’s been around forever, and it doesn’t only affect soldiers. It affects anyone that experiences a traumatic event. It doesn’t need to be combat, it can be a car accident or something like that. In the military, I gained a better understanding of how it affects people in different ways.”
Somoza said that he hoped that the event would give the campus community a greater awareness and appreciation of what veterans have done, as well as a realization that veterans come from all ages and walks of life.
“Usually when you think of a veteran, you think of an old guy with his [uniform] hat on,” he said. “A lot of us are young. We want to raise an awareness that veterans are also part of the student body, we don’t want to isolate ourselves.”
Daniels said that the addition of military veterans to the student population enhances the college experience for all students and the campus community.
“We are reminded of what veterans give to our campus as well,” she said. “They are a vital part of our community and the leadership and experiences they bring benefit us inside the classroom as well as through their involvement with co-curricular opportunities with faculty, staff and students.”
For more information on veterans affairs at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.