In Iraq, veteran Elmer Solis ’10 (Kinesiology) learned to quickly assess situations and formulate a plan of action. Arriving at Cal State Northridge, the 26-year old former Marine observed that there was little coordination of programs and services for veterans within the university’s administrative units.
“We once lived on expired chocolate granola bars for three months because the enemy kept blowing up our supply convoys,” Solis said. “Several of us finally went to our senior officers and volunteered to provide extra security. The convoys got through and we got to eat real food again.”
Solis decided to apply similar initiative at CSUN. In fall 2007, he became a work study assistant to the veterans’ coordinator. Solis’ first priority was to try and establish a student organization for veterans on campus.
“Research shows it can take at least three to five years before people who’ve served in the military want to re-associate themselves with their memories and experiences,” said Solis. “I knew other veterans would show up because being comradely is such an integral part of our character and training.”
After three years of persistence, Solis was finally able to charter the Veterans Student Organization at CSUN in 2009. The newly established organization provides both a communications and social network for veterans, and strives to educate other students and faculty on the needs of student veterans.
There are 412 identified student veterans at Cal State Northridge, according to Eloisa Smith, veteran’s coordinator for admissions and records. She said there may be more but the university can only count those veterans who have used the GI Bill to fund their education.
California leads the nation with 2.2 million veterans, 9.2 percent of the nation’s total veteran population. On average, 27,000 veterans migrate to California annually. The Troops to College program was created in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to attract veterans to California’s public universities and colleges by making campuses more veteran friendly.
CSUN provides a variety of services to veterans from free counseling for those veterans affected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety to financial aid and scholarships.
The College of Engineering and Computer Science has partnered with the State of California, Division of Apprenticeship Standards, local community college and private employers, to offer an apprenticeship program to selected veterans. Participants in this program pursue a degree or certificate program at CSUN, a local community college, or both, while working for the private employer.
“Veterans have given blood, sweat, and tears to help others,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Harry Hellenbrand, who during the 2009–10 academic year convened a special committee to review the needs of veterans at CSUN.
“It is only fitting therefore, that we help them help themselves, and as their records already show, the education that we provide them will be paid back to society at large through selfless service.”
Next on Solis’ agenda is to find funding for a center that would provide centralized information and job opportunities for veterans.
“Veterans bring a diversity of experience and opinion to CSUN,” Solis said. “We owe it to them to help make their transition into the academic world both smooth and welcoming.”