Plenty of colleges and universities have a veterans center – a place where a veteran can use a computer, contact the VA office or find out a bit more about GI benefits.
But there is at least one thing that separates the Veteran Center at National University’s Spectrum Campus in San Diego from the others — the people who work there.
“We’ve walked the walk,” says Karla Payne, the Veteran Center’s manager. “All of us are veterans and we’re all using, or have used, the benefits at National University. We can relate.”
Payne is a Navy veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm. Since then she earned her master’s degree in organizational leadership from National and before running the Veteran Center, she spent six years in the admissions department.
So, odds are, whatever question a student can ask — whether it’s about careers for veterans or finding out about educational benefits from Department of Veterans Affairs, she or a member of her staff can answer it.
“It’s our goal that when they leave here, they are informed,” Payne says. “We can walk them through the admissions process. We give them options, so they are well-informed to make their decisions.”
Student Support and More
The National University Veteran Center is the perfect place for a student to make sure he or she is getting the most from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The veterans center staff are experts on post-9/11 GI Bill funding so they can help students figure out benefits and where scholarship monies might be sourced.
But anyone who has made the transition from the military to civilian life knows that sometimes the questions can be a bit more, well, basic. That’s why Payne starts by getting to know something about each person, not just his or her academic needs.
“One of the first things I ask them is if they’re new to the area,” she says. “Then I ask them if they have children. I tell them about the zoo and the children’s museum. And I talk to them about school options.”
The Veteran Center is the place to find out about all the resources available to veterans at National University and to connect with others who share similar military service experience.
Some students just stop by to grab a cup of coffee before heading to class. Others are looking to talk to someone as they plan their future and look into careers for veterans.
Most classes at National’s Spectrum campus are at night, so at around 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon, the Veteran Center starts to fill up. First, the “regulars” appear and walk by the large, open room where Payne and her staff work.
These students feel very much at home there, and as Payne says, “They always walk in and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’”
Then, come the students who need to use one of the center’s computers before class. Others need to make a last-minute printout. Later in the evening, the center fills up with those who want to just unwind on the PlayStation or the Wii, or take advantage of the workout area.
All this sums up another key feature of the Veteran Center at National: One of its greatest resources is the other students who form part of the community there. Peer monitoring can play a helping hand for veterans making the transition from the military to higher education.
Experienced students can volunteer to assist those just coming to National by helping them assess academic strengths and interests, help them establish networking opportunities, and participate in development workshops.
The veterans center services are even accessible for those who aren’t located in the immediate San Diego area. The Virtual Veteran Center can be accessed through National University’s Blackboard tool, a communications platform that connects National students and administrators across its 41 locations.
“Any student, whether they’re discharged or active military or a dependent, can log on and ask questions,” Payne says.
For those who aren’t yet enrolled at National and just want to find out more about their options, the Veteran Center website page has a link to a live chat feature that lets you ask questions to an admissions advisor who will answer them right on the spot. With just a click on the link, a vet can learn how the Veteran Center and National University can help them focus on and achieve their goals. But in the end, it’s all about the people who are committed to the work of the Veteran Center — they have been there, just like the vets who come to use their services.