The Division of Student Affairs
Veterans Resource Center Helps Meet the Unique Needs of Those Who Served in the Military
By Elaine Regus
When U.S. Navy veteran Lathan Simmons first walked into the Veterans Resource Center, he felt like he was back on the ship.
“The camaraderie is what I miss most about the military,” says Simmons, who is on track to graduate in June from The Collins College of Hospitality Management. “I sensed that bond with the people I met at the veterans center. They really care and they want to help you out.”
One day, Simmons, whose nickname is the “Sauce Boss,” hopes to turn his passion for making sauces into a healthy-eating enterprise called No Fuss Cuisine using some of the connections he’s made with other veterans.
Since it opened in fall 2012, the Veterans Resource Center has become not only a critical source of information, support and guidance, but also a gathering place for student veterans to share a cup of coffee, shoot the breeze or study.
The center is the hub of Cal Poly Pomona’s Veterans Services Initiative, which was established in 2009 by President Emeritus Michael Ortiz to meet the unique academic and personal needs of student veterans and their families.
“We’re so thankful for what the veterans have done for us at home and overseas,” says Krista Spangler, director of development for student affairs. “Now, it’s our duty to help them get through college and into the workforce.”
The center is a central resource for information about veteran-specific services. Veterans receive priority consideration for admissions and course registration, assistance in navigating financial aid, referrals to programs and services on and off campus, access to advisors, peer support and counseling.
A $95,000 Kellogg Legacy Project Endowment grant helps support the center as well as scholarships, recognition events and professional development workshops.
The center was a busy place last year, with nearly 3,000 walk-ins.
“We will serve more than 400 student veterans and over 150 veteran dependents this fall,” Spangler says.
Veterans Services Coordinator Elke Azpeitia has worked at the center since it opened. On any given day, Azpeitia fields questions ranging from admissions requirements and financial aid to military benefits and transfer credits.
“We work with veterans on a case-by-case basis,” Azpeitia says. “Each one comes in with unique circumstances, so we need to determine the best resources available to them.”
Veterans bring to campus a wealth of skills they acquired through their military training and experiences. They tend to gravitate toward majors in engineering, science and business, and are comfortable with Cal Poly Pomona’s hands-on approach to learning Azpeitia says.
They also bring different expectations than students fresh out of high school.
“Veteran students are very academically focused,” Azpeitia says. “They see college as another step in the process to get them where they want to be.”
The center works closely with the Career Center, hosting seminars on how to write resumes, conducting mock job interviews and bringing in employers to talk to veterans about career and internship opportunities.
Jose Figueroa, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist in the Army for about six years, says Azpeitia put him in touch with a recruiter from Northrop Grumman. Figueroa, who graduated in December 2014, is now a systems engineer for the defense contractor.
While at Cal Poly Pomona, Figueroa volunteered for the Boots to Bronco initiative designed to help faculty and staff better understand the challenges facing veterans as they transition to college life.
Some veterans might be deployed or have to go to training classes at the same time a final is scheduled. The center works with faculty members to make accommodations.
“When they get called, they have to go,” Spangler says. “We have to find ways to help them keep moving forward so they don’t fall behind.”
The Veterans Resource Center is developing an active alumni network and has established a faculty-led Student Success Initiative and a liaison network with more than 20 campus departments.
“The support of the administration, faculty and staff has been invaluable to the success of the program and our veterans,” Azpeitia says.