Reprinted, with permission, from the Pierce College website.
Pierce College ranks as one of the state’s top two community colleges when it comes to serving veterans and active military. But it’s not just the number of students served, it’s the quality and depth of support programs that make the college a leader in veteran’s services.
Now, a group of students is breathing new life into the Student Veterans Organization (SVO), which had been inactive for a few years. This student-led organization is dedicated to serving students who are veterans of the five branches of the U.S. armed services—the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
“We are re-establishing the organization, standing it back up.” said Rick Cintron, vice president of the SVO.
Working closely with the college’s Veterans Resource Center, which provides support services for veterans and active duty military students, the SVO advocates for student veterans—resolving problems, linking them to resources, doing whatever it takes to help them succeed.
“We are the voice of the student veteran population,” said Cintron. “Their needs are different. Many are older, work full-time, have families. We want to be a stepping stone to their success, provide an environment where they can de-stress.”
Who better to advocate for veterans than students who are veterans themselves? Cintron likens the support to the “battle buddy system” used in the military.
“The battle buddy system we learn is literally forged in fire,” he said. “That’s what we want to replicate here. You may have left the military but the battle buddy system is still here.”
Cintron, a busy student, husband and father, got involved with the SVO when a fellow student recruited him to the group.
“I didn’t even know colleges had something like this,” he said. “For me, it was an opportunity to give back. That’s what you do in the military as a leader. You give back, you teach, you mentor.”
The SVO was ratified as an official student club in the spring of 2018 by the Pierce College student government (Associated Students of Pierce College). Next, the SVO is pursuing national recognition from the Student Veterans of America, which can provide additional resources. Future plans also call for expanding services, including more services on the Puyallup campus.
“We’d like to see more assistance on campus, such as counseling geared to veterans,” said Cintron. “It can be challenging for student veterans returning to school. Most have experienced trauma of some kind in their military service.”
For now, the SVO is spreading the word about all the support that is available to student veterans.
“The key is to help students understand that we are here to help them,” said Cintron. “We can help find funds to pay for things that aren’t covered through their VA (Veterans Affairs) benefits, like books or online course materials.”
Connecting veterans with each other and the resources available to them is also the focus of the college’s Veterans Resource Center, says work-study student Nathanael Kirkwood, who works in the center while pursuing a degree in business. A 21-year veteran, Kirkwood enjoys helping veterans get the help they need.
“Not all veterans know about all the benefits they’re entitled to,” says Kirkwood. “We help open their eyes to what’s out there.”
He also sees firsthand how veterans benefit from talking to one another. “Once they know the Veterans Resource Center is here, they feel very welcome on campus, knowing they can talk with other veterans who understand what they’ve gone through,” Kirkwood says. “They speak the same language.”
For more information on the Student Veterans Organization, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.