By Ryan Huynh, Nov. 23, 2021
The Veterans Resource Center has continued providing resources to support student veterans and dependents in and outside of the classroom despite this fall’s hybrid semester.
The VRC, located in the western wing of the Student Services Building, centralizes student veterans’ administrative and academic needs at Cal Poly Pomona. From course registration to study areas and postgraduate advising, the center serves 800 student veterans as well as dependents, totaling about 1,400 students.
Samuel Kim, a liaison to the center from the Registrar’s Office, was a 42A (human resources specialist) in the Army where he was trained in document preparation, drafting requests and overseeing official documentation. Kim uses the skills he learned as a 42A to help transitioning veterans become fully adjusted students at Cal Poly Pomona.
“My whole thing in the Army was supporting troops in the admin side of things, so they can do what they have to do to succeed (as students),” Kim said. “Admin work is a pain in the ass, so the less paperwork they have to do, the more time they have to focus on academics.”
The center has also had to adapt to different learning environments, first with the campus’ shift to virtual instruction last year and now to the virtual environment this fall.
“A lot of student veterans happen to be STEM majors,” said Associate Director Kim Katayama. “So, one of the things that we can provide for them is a laptop with the software and hardware needed to accomplish their work, and it’s an area we invested heavily in during this hybrid semester.”
VRC Director Elke Azpeitia and Katayama discussed the challenges they faced when the COVID-19 shutdowns first happened, such as providing students with adequate resources to help with online learning, food drives and being readily available to contact.
“Things were so desperate that we were using our personal lines to keep up with the demand,” Katayama joked. “But like how they’re trained to be prepared for anything at a moment’s notice, we had to do the same.”
The staff rallied to provide the same in-person resources as best they could online. Keeping students engaged and present was their biggest concern, but also mediating any conflicts certain students had with their professors if they were deployed for COVID-19 responses.
“For the students who are in the (National) Guard, our biggest concern was how are they going to get their work done?” said Katayama. “Luckily the ones who were activated were mostly on college campuses/convention centers so they had Wi-Fi, but we had to step in and inform their professors about how they could get their work done while serving their country during a national crisis.”
Azpeitia founded the center after conducting her master’s thesis on student veteran support at Cal Poly Pomona and the challenges such students faced. In 2012, the university decided to open the VRC after Azepitia’s presentation, when she was asked to lead the center.
“The student veterans that come here, they’re all funneled through us first, so we’re literally the first people they meet, and the last to see them graduate and finish their journey here,” Azpeitia said. “We’re really proud to see the student vets here adapt to the changing environment with the resources we provide them.”
The VRC not only caters to student veterans, but dependents of veterans as well. Azpeitia and Katayama are military dependents, along with staff member Aydenn Aquiano.
“It’s really amazing that the VRC provides the same services to dependents, who are often left out of the conversation despite being near equal in numbers,” Aquiano said. “Being a dependent means sacrificing a lot for your significant other’s military career and having access to the same resources they have has been really helpful.”
With the spring semester expected to be held fully in-person, the VRC hopes more students will come in and utilize the resources provided. This means expanding services so more eligible students will take advantage of the resources provided to help them succeed.
“We’re doing a lot of marketing, spreading the word and just reaching out to everyone so we can support them,” Katayama said. “We want students to know we’re here for them online and most importantly in-person so they can get the resources they need to succeed on and off campus.”
The VRC’s operting hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 5 p.m in the western wing of the SSB.
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