Transitioning from military life to civilian life can have specific challenges. The addition of university life can make the transition particularly tough. Veterans and service personnel may face unique dilemmas, especially men and women who have seen active battle. Portland State’s Veterans Resource Center’s mission is to help veterans succeed as college students. To help bring that mission to fruition, the VRC hired a new director, Felita Y. Singleton, MS, who started July 6, 2016.
The VRC has been undergoing renovations and Singleton believes this is a great opportunity to start anew—to open the doors and share. Services at the VRC include: career and academic advising; student legal services; Veterans Administration assistance; resume and interview preparation; in-house campus and community services; crisis and emotional support; and events for veterans, service personnel and their families. The VRC also offers help in aiding veterans understand the different benefits and scholarships they may apply for to help pay for school.
“I’ve been able to get virtually several fellowships over the last two years I’ve been here, that’s allowed me to pay for my education, but I’ve had to work at it,” said veteran Tito Mendoza, who is a graduate student in the PSU School of Social Work’s Advanced Standing program.
The VRC also offers the Women’s Veterans Outreach Program, which typically meets biweekly at the Women’s Resource Center. Singleton said she would love to see more women veterans involved on campus. PSU has an estimated four times as many male veterans on campus as it does female veterans. To celebrate women veterans there will be a viewing of the documentary Lioness from 5–8 p.m. on Nov. 9, location to be determined.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can get some of the incoming veterans to utilize some of the resources that are available to them,” said Mendoza, who is on the PSU Veterans Advisory Board. “Trying to get into PSU is generally not a problem. Being able to stay in the program is the challenge, especially when there aren’t teachers or administrators that understand what the veteran experience is.”
Two of those experiences might involve a traumatic brain injury or the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, each manifesting different symptoms in different people.
“Veterans might go into a classroom and immediately start looking around and positioning themselves either with their back against the wall, or close to a window or a door. They may start looking at who sits around them. That’s what’s called threat assessment. This is your veteran who has had any type of combat experience; they have hyper-vigilance,” Mendoza explained.
Singleton pointed out that PSU has faculty and staff who are active service members, veterans or dependents or have an appreciable background. PSU will begin offering a Veterans Administration/Veterans Service Officer counselor in the next few months, along with a mentoring program through the VRC.
“Don’t be embarrassed to be a non-traditional student,” Singleton said. “This is an opportunity for celebration and renewal.”
Jake Barreiro, who was in the Air Force for over eight years, is now at PSU and scheduled to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in English. He has visited the VRC but has not yet utilized their services.
“Everything’s been really smooth,” Barreiro said. “For me it might be a little different, based on my experiences. I haven’t had any serious deployment and I’ve never been in a war zone. I’ve enjoyed [school] quite a bit and found it great fun. I’ve always had the self motivation to work at what I wanted to work at.”
“[Veterans] are your brothers and sisters. You treat them just like you would want to be treated: with respect, with dignity. Get to know them, help them get to know you,” Mendoza said.