USD opens Veterans Center


Students celebrate the new Veterans Center at the opening reception.

Students celebrate the new Veterans Center at the opening reception.

Shifting from the military back into civilian life can be one of the toughest challenges facing veterans as they return from service. The University of San Diego aims to help ease this transition with its new on-campus Veterans Center.

The Center, which opened on Oct. 16, is a university initiative to provide a higher level of support and resources to students after they leave the military. It will provide students with assistance on issues specific to veterans such as military benefits, financial aid packages and career opportunities. It will also provide a physical space to study, relax or connect with other veteran students.

The Veterans Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Hahn University Center 225.

Military presence is large at USD: There are over 500 veterans or veteran dependents on campus and 151 students participating in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program. USD President Mary Lyons served in the U.S. Navy.

Retired Navy Master Chief Laura Paquian, the Center’s veteran student services coordinator, said the university recognized that the growing student-veteran population needed a place to call its own.

“This place is like a safe place for them,” Paquian said. “They can come in here and talk with other veterans and network with their peer group. My hope is that they feel comfortable if they have any sort of help they need, whether that’s dealing with PTSD or the challenges of going from the military to the classroom, that this gives them a safe place to talk about it with each other and get them dialed in with the right services.”

Senior Mike Portillo, who spent seven years in the Army as an infantryman, said the Center provides a comfortable environment to be around other veterans.

“When you come here everyone is prior military or in the military; they relate to you and you relate to them,” Portillo said. “It’s easier to communicate with them and have a good time with people who understand what you’ve done rather than be that 28-year-old guy out there.”

USD has long offered services to veterans through its other wellness and academic centers, but this will provide a forum exclusively for veteran students to more aptly address their specific needs. The school also received a $470,000 federal grant from the National Science Foundation to encourage more veteran students to enter the engineering school.

“They spoil us here as veterans,” Portillo said. “I have no complaints. If you do, you’re not using your resources right.”

Paquian said that veterans can have unique needs because oftentimes veteran students have families or are older than the average student coming straight out of high school.

For junior Kristina Gonzalez, the Center is a helpful study space where she can escape the chaos of everyday life. Gonzalez served in the Marine Corps for over four years and was deployed to Iraq in 2008. She and her husband are both veterans and have a son.

“It helps me because I can come in here in between classes and get schoolwork done so that at home I can focus on time with my son,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a good outlet to get pure focus on school, and being around the camaraderie helps you feel more at home a lot of the time.”

Any student with military ties, including children or spouses of military members or veterans and NROTC members are welcome to use the resources available at the Veterans Center.

“I hope that all of them, regardless of how they got here, whether they are related to a veteran or are a veteran, feel like the Center is open to them and they can always utilize anything in here,” Paquian said.