Veterans Reaching Out
Workshop aims to inform former service men and women on re-adapting to school life.
The Veteran Student Outreach Program (VSOP) held an open workshop in the Dr. White Room of the Cross Cultural Center on Friday, April 5, an event aimed at informing and encouraging veterans interested in attending UC Irvine. The organization, which operates under the Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR), invited guest speakers from administration, housing and veteran faculty and staff to offer information and share stories to help interested veterans ease the transition from the service to college.
“You come from a military environment, and then you’re placed into a civilian environment, and on top of that, you’re placed back into an educational environment. So some veterans have a longer transitional period of going from military to civilian and back into school,” Event Organizer and Vice President of the veteran professional fraternity Alpha Psi Omega, Billy Lescher, said. Lescher, a fourth-year Business Information and Management major, served in the Army Medical Unit at Fort Hood Texas and served in two deployments to Iraq.
Interested veterans were in attendance from several community and junior colleges in Orange County, including Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College. Guest speakers featured at the event included Graciela Fernandez, director of the SOAR office, as well as representatives of the offices of Housing, Admissions, Veteran Services, Disabilities, Transfers and Financial Aid.
“It’s a little bit harder to acclimate in the aspect that you’re older. You’re coming, and most people are 21 or older, at times 25 or above. It seems like you’re out of place,” Max Samhammer, fourth-year transfer student and Criminology, Law, and Society and Psychology and Social Behavior double major, said. Samhammer is the current president of Alpha Psi Omega and had served as a Ranger with the Army 82nd Airborne Division for two deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
“A lot of the people who come from high schools or other community colleges have a group of friends who they might have come with,” Samhammer said. “When you’re a veteran coming in, you’re basically starting over again. It’s essentially the same thing as changing high schools and then starting over and going to a new one.”
The event, organized by Lescher, Samhammer and fellow veteran student Romell Pindea with support from SOAR, Veteran Services and Alpha Psi Omega, concluded with food catered by Gina’s Pizza and a speech by Dan Dooros, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
“What we’re really hoping is for prospective students to really know that UCI is vet-friendly, and to know that we are trying our best to provide specific service for them,” Adeli Duron, director of Veteran Services and one of the guest speakers at the workshop, said. “Veterans are transitioning to becoming students and that can be a very different lifestyle for them. They don’t always seek out services at the beginning, and they will sometimes get lost in the shuffle of everything, not realizing that there are all these resources for them to access.”
Among the services offered at UC Irvine is the Veteran Student Housing Guarantee, which provides students with secured prospects for housing on campus. Other services also include Disabilities, which offers counseling and other forms of assistance.
The Veteran Student Outreach Program was founded in fall quarter of this year, and is only in its third quarter at UCI. The program takes funding from the SOAR center, which is currently running a referendum seeking additional funding, and is dependent upon its financial support to continue its goal of reaching out and supporting veteran students.