Cal Poly psychology junior Aaron De Sal wandered around campus during last spring’s open house, searching for something that did not exist. He had just finished his community college career, and Cal Poly seemed like the ideal school, except for the one thing it lacked: people like him.
“I wanted to get in touch with other people who have some of the same experiences,” De Sal said. Unlike most students, six years prior to community college, he finished serving his country.
Cal Poly Office of the Registrar assistant registrar Brad Fely said the 100 or so veterans in a total student population of 20,000 at Cal Poly is the lowest proportion out of all California State Universities (CSU). Without a club where veterans can gather, their presence on campus can seem almost unnoticeable. Fely said Cal Poly is becoming more aware of student veterans, but without an organized voice, it’s hard to tell what the veteran population as a whole needs.
“One of the things we lack in regards to veterans is knowing what they want, it’s been tough to guess what kind of services to offer,” Fely said. “If (the veterans) get together, they can tell us and it has a little more force.”
The Office of the Registrar works with veterans to help determine what kind of student benefits they are eligible for, depending on when they served and for how long. Under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, veteran benefits include four academic years of tuition and fees, plus stipends for books and further assistance with other living costs, such as rent and utility bills.
Luckily for De Sal, he met business administration junior and fellow veteran Ryan Duschak. They said they recognized that veterans need an easier way to access the resources needed for their education as well as a social circle for people like them. The answer was simple: start a veterans club.
Duschak said he hopes creating the club will ease the transition from a veteran lifestyle to that of a civilian and student. Both he and De Sal said they are excited that the club already has 15 members.
“We want to serve as liaisons between veterans and the school to get assistance, and to foster camaraderie,” Duschak said.
Through organization, the student-veterans can channel their needs to the school and the local community. The change from service into civilian life can sometimes be overwhelming, and this new career without structure can leave veterans confused, Fely said.
“It’s like shell-shock,” De Sal and Duschak said in agreement with Fely.
However, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is optimistic the recent increase in student diversity will continue, and said he hopes the veteran population will be a part of this. Some methods administration is looking into are making funds available for out-of-state veterans and learning about different military bases through the CSU system.
“We’re looking at that from a lot of different directions,” Armstrong said.
The creation of the Student Veterans Support Group is one method designed to reach out to veterans.
The committee is convened and chaired by David Conn, the chair of the Inclusive Excellence Council. Conn advises Armstrong on diversity issues, and said he knows diversity is a term that has a broader reach than just ethnicity and sexual orientation. In addition to the committee’s formation, Conn wants to use online surveys and a new website with links to internal and external information resources so there is no confusion for new veteran students.
“The biggest challenge for Cal Poly student veterans is their small numbers,” Conn said. “It’s really important for them to know who to go to for help.”
Conn and Fely are excited to see veterans take a more active role in creating a welcoming environment for their peers. For them, the veterans club is nothing but a positive.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to see for a while,” Fely said.