Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cañada College Well Represented at Veterans Summit

The Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges hosted a two-day Veterans Summit Dec. 6-7 to raise awareness of veteran concerns and to share best practices and a group of Cañada faculty, staff, and students was in attendance. 

Educators, student veterans, service providers, and State representatives discussed strategies and resources to ensure the academic and personal success of those who served our country.  Nicolas Martin and Edith Flores, Cañada's VA designated counselor and certifying official, attended the Veterans Summit along with Director of Student Support & TRiO, Romeo O. Garcia.  The Veteran Resource and Opportunity Center (V-ROC) also welcomed a new Retention Specialist this Fall 2012, Steven Bradley, also a veteran, who actively participated in the Summit as well.

Cañada's V-ROC team
“It was great to see the commitment from the community colleges and the efforts to provide the environment necessary for veterans and other students to achieve success in their educational and personal goals,”  Bradley said.

Various workshops were offered such as Academic Counseling for Military and Veteran Students, Mental Health Issues (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries), Understanding Military Cultures, Women Veterans Issues, VA Benefits and Education Plans, and Best Practices in Veterans Resource Centers.  Several student veterans were in attendance and shared their perspective and inspiring testimonials via student panels, digital storytelling, and theater arts.

“The summit presenters did an excellent job of providing helpful and relevant information on how best to interact and be sensitive to veterans’ needs. The environment that veterans are accustomed to is very different than what they find at the community college.   Educators need to be sensitive and aware of the realities veterans experience; we want these highly deserving students to be successful, as we want for all students,” said Martin, “One part of the summit that was highly moving and memorable was a scene performed from the play 'The Bronze Star.' The actors were a mix of veterans and non-veterans; the insight they provided into what helped them re-adjust to civilian life was deeply impactful. One actor expressed how much the arts helped him overcome his alcoholism and mental health issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I learned that as educators, we need to get creative with how we can reach these veterans; the conventional methods may not always be best. What other areas of college could potentially help vets?”

There can potentially be a lot of complexity and nuance when working with veteran course selection and its correlation with VA benefits, for instance. Flores works diligently to ensure Student Education Plans are in alignment with benefit eligibility requirements.  There are about 150-200 Veterans at Cañada College, more than 55 of which are currently receiving benefits.  

“The Veterans Summit Conference was a very productive event," Flores said. "I was able to network with veteran coordinators from other community colleges and learn their work with student veterans. I was very impressed how we all have the same mission; support our veterans in any and all possible way to make them succeed in school and as well in life”.

Momentum has been ongoing at Cañada College to support veterans, especially since V-ROC opened in Spring 2011.  With the founding leadership of Margie Carrington and a Veterans Steering Committee of student veterans, key College program staff, and community members affiliated with local veteran service organizations, including Vietnam Veterans of America - San Mateo Chapter, American Legion Post 105, AmVETS, Disabled Veterans of America, and representatives from the Peninsula Vet Center, the V-ROC is becoming a centralized hub to connect with other veterans and campus and community resources.  Special thanks to community volunteers and members of Menlo Park Rotary Club, Mary Helen Armstrong and Mike McNitt, for being instrumental advocates for the V-ROC.  V-ROC is excited to reach out again to the Veterans Steering Committee to reconvene for future planning in early March 2013.

For more information regarding the Veteran Resource & Opportunity Center, please contact Romeo O. Garcia at garciar@smccd.edu.

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