A dedicated center for student veterans at California State University, Dominguez Hills officially opened its doors in the Loker Student Union on Sept. 22 with a ribbon cutting that was attended by the campus community, the university’s ROTC unit, representatives of local and state government, and keynote speaker, Capt. Winton Smith, commanding officer, Naval Base San Diego.
President Mildred García underscored the importance of services for veterans who are reentering civilian life as college students by sharing her own family’s experiences.
“My nephew went to Afghanistan and came back twice,” she said. “His son is leaving next month to join the U.S. Army at boot camp. My brothers served in Vietnam, and another family member was in the Marines. So it is personal for me that we honor those who protect our civil liberties and our democracy. I want to say thank you, on behalf of this country and on behalf of everybody we serve at CSU Dominguez Hills, for doing all you do for us.”
García said that the establishment of a student veterans center on campus was “part of our strategic plan to serve our students, whoever they are.”
Capt. Smith addressed the assembled audience with the comparison of a military base for active duty soldiers and their families to a place at CSU Dominguez Hills that would serve as a support system for student veterans.
“Like our goal to take care of the fleet, fighters, and their families, he said, “California state universities have a longstanding tradition of taking care of our military.
“Our veterans are coming back from fighting overseas and finding it difficult to transition to the civilian workforce, not because they are not capable, but because they are young and businesses are seeking employees with more experiences,” he continued. “Our service members protect our freedom. We owe it to them to set them up in the best way possible for life outside the military… Veterans’ centers such as this one serve as a motivator, a helping hand, you might say, enabling vets to learn more skills that they can combine with their military experience to get a job, and an education to provide that missing link on a resume that employers are searching for.”
Until now, services for student veterans were administered through the office of Disabled Student Services (DSS). Lui Amador, acting associate director of Veteran Student Programs (VSP), Student Life, thanked Patricia Ann Wells, director, DSS, and staff member Marie Ward for 20 years of leading efforts to assist veteran students at CSU Dominguez Hills. In addition, Detrick Hudson, chemistry major, Marine Corps veteran, and new VSP staff member, expressed his gratitude for the university’s commitment to its veteran population.
“Tens of thousands of veterans from all over California and across the country will pass through these doors for years to come,” said Hudson. “You need only look at the faces of the people who come into this building and the faces of the people who are here to serve them from their own hearts to appreciate what an incredible place of beauty and warmth and comfort this place will be… Here at Dominguez Hills, in a very real way, all of us will be able to share the joy of unlocking the miraculous potential… that exists in every single individual by supporting our veterans service center.”
Amador, who also serves as coordinator for the Multicultural Center at CSU Dominguez Hills, was a Marine Corps reservist while attending University of California, Santa Cruz, and was deployed to serve in the Gulf War while still a student. He said that the opportunity to serve his fellow veterans as they navigate through their return to civilian life and entrance to college means a lot to him because of his personal experience as a veteran returning to college.
“Knowing some of the barriers that can exist out there for veterans coming back—trying to be integrated into civilian life, all of that—I felt that I could really empathize with them and use that frame of mind to develop policies and put systems in place for this office,” he said. “If we’re striving to do anything, it’s to make their experience here easier. We want them to get their education and succeed. If a process is too bureaucratic or heavily laden with red tape, we’re going to be here to try and help navigate through that.
“For a very long time, I set aside my military experience. Sometimes I forget that I was ever in the Marines,” continued Amador. “So to come back and try to give back to our veteran student population means a lot to me personally. I feel a renewed sense of passion for the work I do and I’m just very excited to be working with this population.”