Every year, Cal State Fullerton welcomes a new class of veterans and ROTC cadets with a range of programs to help them get the most out of their university experience. It’s part of a campus and California State University systemwide commitment to honor their service to their country.
For many veterans, their first stop is the Veterans Resource Center (VRC), where they can receive tutoring, study and hold meetings. They also have a chance to meet other veterans and work on community projects together.
“Veterans are often older than other students,” says Lui Amador, VRC director. “They’ve often had vastly different experiences than many of their student peers. Some are married and have families. Because they’re at different stages in their lives, they may not think they have as much in common with other students. What veterans do have is pride in their service. The VRC and programs for veterans are ways that Cal State Fullerton demonstrates its support.”
Programs for student veterans include peer mentoring that connects veterans who have been on campus for several semesters with their newer cohorts. The VRC also offers personal and mental health counseling, academic tutoring, career preparation and social programs that contribute to their engagement on campus. To meet the needs of the 82 registered veterans who are female, there are special programs, such as weekly meetings and monthly brunches.
“We’re also here to assist veterans with other challenges they may be facing — whether they are academic, helping with the funding process, developing their schedules or figuring out how they can continue their studies if they are deployed again,” says Amador. “We have about 530 student veterans on campus, and about 42 percent of them are actively involved in veterans’ programs here.”
In fact, a 2014 survey conducted by Veterans Student Services found that students who take advantage of these services tend to improve their grades and that the persistence rate — the percentage of students that remain in school from one semester to the next — is 80 percent higher than those of nonparticipants.
CSUF also helps those whose future goals include service in the U.S. Army. Three days a week, starting at 6 a.m., cadets from the ROTC program can be seen training before most students even start to arrive on campus. The ROTC Titan Battalion trains cadets to become future officers in the armed forces, as well as leaders in their chosen fields.
Last year, major changes in leadership training were offered in the ROTC curriculum.
“ROTC programs had remained about the same for the past few decades,” says Lt. Col. Mark Waters, chair and professor of military science. “But with dramatic changes in the threats this nation faces now and in the future, we are spending more time focusing on being able to thrive in chaos.
“This is done by analyzing battles, enhancing critical thinking techniques and improving their problem-solving skills rather than ‘by the book’ tactical training.” Seniors, for example, are given theoretical situations and asked to formulate a plan. Afterward, students discuss what ideas would or would not work, and why.
Cadets also have opportunities to train off campus during the summer. Additional training includes air assault, mountain or northern warfare, cadet troop leader training at an active Army post around the world, internships with an agency in the Department of Defense, or cultural understanding and language proficiency in a foreign country.
In fact, several cadets spent last summer overseas, helping to teach English to that country’s military, working on community projects, health programs and more. The countries most recently visited include Vietnam, Germany, Burkina Faso, Guyana and Croatia.
Before completing the ROTC program, cadets must decide whether to compete for active duty or serve in the Army National Guard or Army Reserves. They also must rank, by preference, 17 different job opportunities offered by the Army, including finance, engineering, aviation, infantry, and chemical, biological and cyber fields.
“Our goal is to prepare well-rounded leaders who can protect our country and lead it into the future,” says Waters.
Tribute to a Fallen Cadet
Roy Lopez loved being an ROTC cadet. “I think Roy found a sense of community, discipline and structure in ROTC,” says Adriana Mraz of her son, who passed away in 2012. To honor his memory, Mraz is donating $150,000 to help the ROTC program build a military obstacle course on campus.
Currently, the closest comparable facility is at Camp Pendleton, but in order to use it, the campus program incurs an annual expense of approximately $10,000 to transport and house about 100 cadets every semester. With Mraz’s gift and additional donations of $50,000, the new course will be built in early 2016.
The facility will be named in memory of Lopez and will offer any organization, group or club that wants to utilize the course the opportunity to challenge its members in physical training and conditioning, teambuilding and leadership.