Closing the Gap

Students surround USD Veteran Student Services Coordinator Laura Paquian.

VETERAN’S CENTER SERVES THOSE WHO SERVE US

For the better part of three decades, Laura Paquian earned her stripes as an educational counselor and career coach in the United States Navy. Along the way, she learned how vitally important it is to provide service men and women with the resources, support and encouragement they need to make a seamless and successful transition from active-duty to civilian — even when they don’t ask for it.

“One of the things you learn about veterans is that they typically don’t look for help; there’s a vulnerability in that, that they’re typically unfamiliar with,” says Paquian, who now serves as USD’s veteran student services coordinator. “Life in the military is very regimented; in that kind of system, it’s very easy to find what you’re looking for. That’s not always the case in civilian life.”

And in the case of the men and women who seek to advance their educational and career opportunities by returning to college after they rotate out of service, that transition can be jarring. Student veterans who may have been out of school for years — as well as those fresh out of the military ­— can find it challenging to connect with their new classmates, who are often many years younger and unfamiliar with military culture.

As if that hurdle isn’t high enough, there’s also the struggle to find their niche. A study at Arizona State University suggests the power of social relationships directly impacts a veteran’s decision to stay in school. Post-traumatic stress and multiple deployments are thought to unravel the ability of some to connect with their campus community — and subsequently stay in school long enough to earn their degrees.

Since veteran’s priorities are often different from those of the typical college co-ed, what can USD do to recruit and retain members of this valued and highly motivated student demographic? Enter the newly constructed University of San Diego Veteran’s Center, a place where student veterans can connect with their peers, share experiences and enhance their comfort level with life on campus.

After researching available on-campus resources for veterans at peer-group institutions (private, faith-based universities) here in California, Paquian found that USD is the only school with a dedicated space for student veterans. That’s a huge advantage, especially given the large military community on USD’s doorstep. “We have such a large armed forces presence here in San Diego, and the Veteran’s Center will be such an important recruiting tool to attract the best and brightest from the various branches here in town,” Paquian says.

The center, which opened this fall, is designed to function as a one-stop shop where students can have questions answered on topics ranging from military benefits and financial aid packages to professional networking opportunities. Located on the second floor of the Hahn University Center, the space will include an all-purpose area where students can hold meetings, study sessions, or just relax and talk with folks who understand their experiences and speak their language.

“I have a very neat picture of how it’s all going to work in my head,” Paquian says, smiling. “The center’s going to be a great place for our veteran students to get to know each other and network, but it’s also a place where they can go and blow off steam, knowing that the people there understand exactly what they’re going through.” — Mike Sauer

Pictured above: USD Veteran Student Services Coordinator Laura Paquian (center) is flanked by USD students (from left to right) Adrimarie Ramirez, Bethany Woloszyn-Redman, Ruben Orosco and Steve Leader.