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Serving Those Who Served

by Rachel White

After four years in the Air Force, Airmen Andrew Montes ’15 knew college was key for a successful transition to civilian life. With a degree and career as his ultimate goals, he wasted no time in applying to Azusa Pacific University.

“APU reached out to me right away,” he said. “They gave me a tour of the campus and arranged for me to meet with a transfer counselor. I mentioned that I was interested in a social work major and the university connected me with someone from the department.”

Impressed by the level of care he received, Montes selected APU as his college destination. As he anticipated beginning his new life as a college student, doubt crept in. While military service had strengthened his character and built his confidence on the battlefield, college was new territory. “I was self-conscious about being an older student in class,” he said. “ I questioned whether I would I fit in.”

Montes represents 1 of approximately 1 million veterans, service members, and their families enrolling in college or training programs over the last five years with the benefit of the post 9/11 G.I. Bill. A part of this national trend, Azusa Pacific University’s veteran population continues to grow, with an increase of 30 percent from last year. Currently, APU serves about 400 veterans and their dependents.

“The influx is phenomenal across university campuses,” said reservist United States Air Force Lt. Col. Vic Bezjian, DBA, executive director of APU’s Office of Military and Veterans Resources. “Southern California is home to one of the largest populations of returning service men and women. The majority of veterans who come to APU do so because of our Christ-centered focus and ability to provide individual support.”

APU’s Office of Military and Veterans Resources (OMVR) serves as the primary liaison between veteran students, the university, and outside organizations such as the Department of Veteran Affairs. “As the hub for all veteran issues, we offer resources and assistance including counseling,” said Tammy Oluvic, director of military and veterans outreach. “We also seek to increase awareness on campus of the unique needs of these students. Our goal is to help them avoid a cultural disconnect.”

According to national studies cited by Military.com, many veteran students report that their former military lifestyle of intense pressure, routines, and discipline hinders them from connecting with traditional undergraduates and taking advantage of the full collegiate experience. APU’s efforts to help veteran students successfully assimilate captured the attention of G.I. Jobs magazine. They recognized the university’s continued success providing military students with quality programs, discounts, scholarships, clubs, networking, and staff support, by naming the university a Military Friendly School for the second year.

For Montes, his transition to college proved easier than he imagined. “Everyone students, faculty, and staff welcomed me and made me feel comfortable,” he said. “I'm enjoying my time as a APU student and making many friends.” Enhancing his college experience, Montes joined the student veteran club on campus where he networks and socializes with other service members. He also works part time in the OMVR, assisting fellow veterans navigate their journey from boots to books.

A 2005 report entitled Student Success in College indicates that involvement represents the best way to help students succeed in and out of the classroom. To that end, OMVR strives to create those connections beginning the school year with a kickoff barbecue where new veteran students met each other and interacted with current students, faculty, staff, and community members, including Azusa Mayor Joseph Rocha. OMVR sponsors other important events such as Veterans Week, which provides student workshops and other activities, and an annual Veteran Resource Fair, where students help coordinate and host dozens of community organizations that provide assistance to service members from across the San Gabriel Valley.

“These brave men and women have sacrificed a lot by answering the call to serve our nation, and it is an honor to serve them in return,” said Bezjian. “APU is uniquely equipped to help military and veteran students understand life from a Christian worldview and help them achieve their post-military goals of completing their education and beginning a new career. We understand that each student is an integral part of our community and we succeed when they thrive.”