Student veterans celebrated Veterans Day this year in a very special way — with the grand opening of the new Student Veterans Resource Center.
Located in the former LGBTQ Resource Center building, the facility provides a wide variety of resources geared toward giving student vets what they need to succeed in college, said Eliberto Calderon, president of Student Veterans of the University of New Mexico.
“Personally, it’s a source of pride that this University not only talks about being veteran-friendly, but carries it out,” Calderon said. “They actually put some resources behind it and are walking the walk when it comes to supporting us.”
Calderon, who spent 10 years in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 90s, is a PhD student in Organization, Information and Learning Sciences. He said that the new center is a huge improvement from the 200-square-foot space they had before.
The center came together as a collaboration between three student organizations: Student Veterans of UNM, Women Student Vets of UNM and the Lobo Parenting Club.
The center has a lounge, kitchen, counseling room, computer lab and printer, a parenting area with a breastfeeding station and several quiet study areas.
Student Vets of UNM Vice President James Kaminski, who served in the Marine Corps and spent eight months in Afghanistan, said that getting to open the center on Veterans Day was a big deal for everyone involved.
Veterans Day is an important day of reflection for vets and their families, when they remember the camaraderie and friendships they formed during their time in the military, he said. So being able to open the new center, which aims to continue that friendship and support among vets, on such an important day meant a lot to everyone.
Calderon said he had only been given the keys to the new space 10 days before. The space needed a full cleaning and new paint. All the furniture and computers also had to be moved in. He and his team worked tirelessly in preparing the center in time for Veterans Day, he said.
In his opening remarks before the ribbon cutting ceremony, Calderon stressed the point that the center wasn’t just about giving student vets what they need, but also about giving them the resources to give back to the community. Veterans are uniquely qualified to become leaders on campus, he said.
“We hope to provide a platform where they can learn how to adapt and utilize those skill sets for their community, which is what they want to do anyway,” Kaminski said. “It provides an opportunity for veterans to be successful on campus and provides a platform where they can contribute and make their community better.”
Lariane Martinez, president of Women Student Veterans of UNM and 15-year veteran of the New Mexico National Guard, said that veterans have very unique challenges when coming back to school after being deployed overseas.
“There’s a lot of transition issues that we see happen,” Martinez said. “Myself also, when I returned home from overseas, I had a bit of trouble to get back into school and keep up with the demands of so much school work, having children and your jobs.”
She said many vets have injuries, physical and mental health challenges and often suffer from PTSD. The new center will provide resources specifically tailored to those needs, eventually offering a full-time counselor and help in accessing resources off campus.
“These kind of programs bridge the gap between us trying to transition from being a servicemember to being a veteran and actually having services that will benefit us and our families,” Martinez said.
In the future, Calderon said he hopes the resource center will lead to higher retention rates among student veterans at UNM and more active engagement with the campus as a whole.
He hopes to eventually collaborate with other groups on campus to share their experience by hosting courses about topics like organizational leadership.
“I think the most important thing is not only that we get something out of this, but that we help others and become part of the leadership of the UNM community,” he said.
Calderon said that the resource center is not just for vets — their families, friends and anyone who supports the veteran community are welcome.
Jonathan Baca is managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JonGabrielB.