Veterans, disabled students strive for success

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DSS and VA offices predict promising fall semester.

By V. G. Garlisi

sac-ranger@alamo.edu 

For more than 4,000 students served by disability support services and the veterans affairs office, the two centers have approached the fall semester with diligence.

“The whole month of August is always crazier than any other part of the year, because our numbers are always higher for enrollment,” Odell “Trey” Kelley, the coordinator of veteran affairs, said.

Since the combining of the departments in July 2012, the staff thought it would be beneficial to hold gatherings during Weeks of Welcome to create awareness and inform DSS students and veterans of all the services provided to them at this college.

Coffee and doughnuts greeted more than 60 students the morning of Aug. 31 down at the DSS and VA offices in Moody Learning Center. Patriotic streamers and American flag-colored stars decorated the halls as Jennifer Alvizo, the director of veterans affairs and DSS, and Kelley smiled and encouraged students to join the morning raffle.

“Our party was more modest this year than last, because we wanted to do something closer to home, but the turnout was great.” Alvizo said.

Students enjoyed fun and refreshments as well as pertinent information about their field of education. Prizes for the raffle included backpacks, sweatshirts, mugs and drink containers, all printed with this college’s logo.

Much like the advising department for this college, the DSS and veterans office work with students one on one.

However, the DSS and veterans office are unique because they advise students on a much more personal level, keeping detailed notes on the student and pertinent paperwork to better assist them with their educational goals, Alvizo said.

“More than 4,200 DSS and veterans attend this college each year, and every student has his or her own personalized file to fit their learning habits and experiences,” Alvizo said. “We keep very detailed notes for every student and what they require and seek from their education.”

The center offers “intentional” advising with a comprehensive approach to helping students get the most out of their education. Both departments offer academic advising, career advising, degree planning, financing, veteran to veteran counseling, as well as one-on-one tutoring.

“Our students are hungry for that next step in their life,” Kelley said. “I can see it in them, and our job is to help facilitate their education by helping them with their individual needs as students and as veterans.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs established a VetSuccess on Campus program at this college in October 2013 said counselor  Sylvia Rodriguez.

The program aims to help veterans and dependents achieve success in institutions of higher learning by providing outreach and mentoring to get them adjusted from military to college life.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the VSOC program began in 2009 as a pilot program at the University of Florida.

Since then, VSOC has been established at 94 campuses across the nation.

The VSOC program has been so successful here, Alvizo said, that the Texas Senate in May approved House Bill 1, which will grant the Alamo Colleges $9 million for veteran initiatives. Of that $9 million, $7.6 million will build a new stand-alone Veterans Victory Center at this college. Kelley said the center will serve a higher volume of veteran students and have more Vet-to-Vet peer mentoring.

“The hope is for the building to be established and ready for student intake March of the spring 2017 semester,” Kelley said. “It will be located across from EcoCentro on North Main Avenue.”

Lolly Espinoza, a former student and temporary assistant at the DSS desk, graduated from this college in 2007 with associate degrees in child development and liberal arts.

During her enrollment here, Espinoza was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, which eventually confined her to a wheelchair.

She remembered how helpful the DSS center was to her friends, so she decided to apply for a job with the center.

Seven years later, Espinoza enjoys her seat at the DSS center, ready to help any student who walks through the doors.

“I work with passionate people, who want to help others,” Espinoza said. “It’s a great environment to work in.”

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