(Santa Ana) - Veterans returning to college face unique challenges. They find themselves feeling marginalized and uncertain as they adjust to civilian and college life. For many Santa Ana College veteran students, who are utilizing their veteran benefits to access higher education, the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) becomes their new home base. There are currently 835 veterans enrolled in classes at Santa Ana College.
To raise funds to provide needed services for these returning veterans, Santa Ana College is hosting a Soldiers to Scholars Wine Tasting on Thursday, December 5 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Santora Building, 207 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701.
“When I first got to Santa Ana College, I had some trouble,” said 29-year-old Adriana Gibson. “I had a hard time getting used to people not dealing with matters with a sense of urgency. The Veterans Resource Center is a sanctuary for the veterans like me on campus.”
Gibson, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was deployed twice to Iraq in 2006 and 2007 and once to Afghanistan in 2011. She is a single mother of a six-year-old boy and three-year-old girl. After she left the military, she returned to Santa Ana and decided to enroll in college. She had no job and accessing her G.I. Bill benefits was not easy. For two weeks, she lived in her car with her children until she had the money for a small apartment.
Although being a female Marine was a challenge, entering civilian life and college has been more difficult. At least in the military, she knew her fellow Marines had her back. “It was a family. I could trust everyone.” She talks about how difficult sitting in class with teens, who do not act respectfully, can be. She also says she does not like to study in the library as being in a large building with lots of people can be trying for her. She prefers to study in the VRC where she feels much more comfortable and safer.
She says it means a lot to be able to share war stories with these men and women who understand her situation. In 2007, she was injured in Iraq while working on a security detail. In the VRC, she feels the support of her fellow veterans. To ensure that more support is available through the VRC, Gibson agreed to become president of the Veterans Club.
Gibson, who is majoring in psychology to transfer to complete a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and maybe even a doctorate, hopes to become a marriage and family counselor and help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down and enhancements to the G.I. Bill, colleges and universities are expecting a surge in veteran enrollment unseen since World War II. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill has been the largest increase in educational benefits for veterans since the 1940s.
“When I first came to SAC, it was really difficult knowing how to sign up for classes and access my G.I. Bill benefits,” said Gibson. “I came to the VRC and they walked me through the process step by step.”
According to the Center for American Progress report, Easing the Transition from Combat to Classroom, some strategies work to keep veterans in school. They include specialized orientation programs, helping veterans connect with one another, training faculty and staff on challenges veterans face and offering more counseling and financial aid.
The college’s Veteran Resource Center (VRC) provides the following services:
- Access to a Certifying Official to assist veterans with accessing Veterans Assistance (VA) educational benefits,
- Specialized academic counseling to develop educational plans to meet VA benefit requirements,
- Customized orientation and academic skills workshops for veterans, and
- Quiet study area with access to computers, the Internet and a printer.
Other programs and services available to veterans through the VRC include: priority registration, accommodations for veterans with disabilities, distance learning, Board of Governors fee waivers, in-state tuition waivers, access to the college's child development centers, work study/campus job opportunities, and health and wellness services. The 'Drop Zone,' a collaboration between SAC and the County of Orange Health Care Agency, provides transitional counseling and support through individual and group programs, case management, and access to local services that help veterans as they begin their new lives after military service.
The Soldiers to Scholars event will include live music, Spanish wine and tapas, and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. Reservations are available for $100 per person; corporate sponsorships range from $1,000 to $10,000. The event is sponsored by Bank of the West Commercial Banking. For more information, contact (714)564-6095.
About Santa Ana College
Santa Ana College (SAC), which will turn 100 years old in 2015, serves about 18,000 students each semester at its main campus in Santa Ana. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions, provides invaluable workforce training, and customized training for business and industry. In addition, another 10,000 students are served through the college’s School of Continuing Education located at Centennial Education Center. Ranked as one of the nation’s top two-year colleges awarding associate degrees to Latino and Asian students, the college is also recognized throughout the state for its comprehensive workforce training programs for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and other medical personnel. SAC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District. Visit www.sac.edu to learn more.
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