California State University, Long Beach
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CSULB Prepared for Anticipated Influx of Student Veterans

Published: March 15, 2010

As troop withdrawls increase and U.S. soldiers who have carried weapons “locked and loaded” during tours of duty leave the military, campuses such as CSULB expect a significant influx of student veterans transferring from community colleges.

In anticipation, Pat O’Rourke, a former Army lieutenant colonel who now directs Veterans University and its new Veterans Center located in the Foundation Building at CSULB, believes the next couple of years will prove a challenging time for the center as they cater to the needs of combat and non-combat veterans.

“Not only have these students’ lives changed due to their special status, but each will have a uniquely different story and situation when they arrive on campus, especially those who wore a holstered pistol or carried a rifle that was locked and loaded,” explained O’Rourke. “They were not just uniformed personnel patrolling the streets somewhere in Southern California; they were part of a military force and targets in someone else’s country.”

Dedicated on Veterans Day 2009, the Veterans Center focuses most of its efforts on streamlining academic advising in support of Veteran Administration benefit certification while providing centralized processing and referrals, advocacy and other services.

Though the Veterans Center has a small staff, it has developed into the highly-efficient motor in the machine that is CSULB’s network of veteran-friendly departments and partners. This year, the center expects to process more than $5 million in military educational benefits through the Veterans Benefit Administration and the Cal Vet Fee Waiver for dependents of disabled veterans.

Raising the stakes, this year the number of student veterans transferring from Long Beach City College (LBCC) has doubled. In addition, students from the three-campus Coast Community College District, a major educator of student veterans, now receive transfer preference to CSULB, much like LBCC. As a result, the Veterans Center expects to certify more than 400 students next year, up from approximately 200 just three years ago.

Fortunately, O’Rourke, Certifying Official Lynisha McDuel, and the student veterans who work in the center have become proficient in responding to the continuously changing post 9/11 G.I. Bill, which will help them prepare for this influx of transferring students.

“I have heard of some of the difficulties that others have had while transferring colleges, but the Veterans Center has been able to assist me in filing the right paperwork in a timely manner,” said Former Marine Sgt. Andrew Choi, a business finance major expected to graduate in the fall. “My transition to CSULB was seamless. They have also kept me updated with the regulations of the new G.I. Bill along the way so that I am aware of what I am eligible for.”

Choi was nominated for a 2009 Director’s Award by the College of Business Administration (CBA) at CSULB. The award honors students in the college who have shown significant growth in professional development. He also placed on the CBA’s Dean’s List in spring 2009.

Above and Beyond…

The Veterans Center works closely with the CSULB Office of Enrollment Services to help combat veterans and medically separated veterans apply for late admission within a six-month period of leaving the service. Together, both departments also assist student veterans with the evaluation of their military education in the areas of technology and medical services. The center also manages limited scholarship resources for student veterans.

“The Vet Center was able to get me a scholarship to pay for school after my G.I. Bill expired. The donor’s generosity has greatly helped me obtain my master’s degree,” explained Mathew Cox, a former Marine corporal who expects to graduate this spring with a master’s in special education.

Veteran Center
Photo by David J. Nelson
Attending the opening of the Veterans Center were (l-r) student veteran Noel Rabina, CSULB President F. King Alexander, President of the Veterans Network Adam Renteria, Director of Veterans University Pat O’Rourke.

Andrew Lee, a former Army E-4 specialist and now a healthcare administration major expected to graduate this spring, was invited to apply for the “Who’s Who” list for his graduating class as one of the top students in his college.

“The Vet Center made everything possible. From being in the top 10 percent of my college, to attaining my bachelor’s in healthcare administration,” said Lee. “Without them, it is possible that I would have never made it to CSULB. I will never forget what they have done for me.”

Reaching Out

CSULB’s reputation as the region’s “Veterans University” and how it reaches out to its campus and outside communities continues to grow.

The Veterans Center also recognizes the importance of addressing the physical and psychological challenges war veterans face when seeking higher education and acclimating back into local communities.

One unique characteristic of CSULB is its close connection with the neighboring Veterans Administration (VA) Long Beach Healthcare System, which treats thousands of disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Services provided by the VA are essential to some veterans attending CSULB, and its proximity makes it easier for student veterans to seek assistance if needed.

On campus, disabled student veterans are offered assistance through Disabled Student Services and the Counseling and Psychological Services departments. In the near future, the Veterans Center hopes to offer a veterans transition course designed to build self-awareness, resiliency and promote cultural awareness among faculty, staff and students on campus.

Veterans Network (VetNet), the student veterans club on campus, offers members camaraderie and a place to meet and socialize with others who have served. Led by club President Adam Renteria, an Iraq war veteran and history major expected to graduate this spring, the organization meets weekly during its “Brown Bag” lunches to discuss issues related to their education, concerns and problems they may be facing, or just to hang out.

“Veterans Network provides the relationships amongst veterans that are lost upon completion of service. It brings veterans together who speak the same language and provides moral support and understanding,” said Renteria. “We also provide a one-stop shop for veterans to bring any type of questions regarding matriculation and benefit certification as well as a mentor program that pairs veterans with the same major. Our main goal is to encourage all student veterans to participate in Veterans Network so that we may provide them a true and seamless transition from military to college life.”