MiraCosta opens new Veterans Center to serve 1,500 military students

MiraCosta opens new Veterans Center to serve 1,500 military students
Military veterans and college students Gerald Borja, center, and Hector Rodriquez, left, cut the ribbon to open the Veterans Information Center Nov. 10. The center provides resources, counseling, a computer lab, and lounge. Photo by Promise Yee
OCEANSIDE — A ribbon cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the opening of the new MiraCosta College Veterans Center that serves 1,500 military students on Nov. 10.

The roughly 1,200 square foot center houses Department of Veterans Affairs services, college counseling, a computer lab, student lounge, and offices.

Veterans said the new center makes a big difference. The former veterans center was a corner of an office. There were fewer computers, and dated furniture in tight quarters.

Veteran Hector Rodriquez said he would go to the library because of the closed in space and lack of available computers.

Veteran Gerald Borja said lack of separation between the lounge and study areas made it difficult to concentrate.

“It was crammed,” Borja said. “You were climbing over people and couldn’t get that much done.”

The new Veterans Center has a separate computer lab room, and large lounge equipped with coaches, a television, microwave and fridge. It boasts new furniture donated by Bill Kuhnert, owner of bkm OfficeWorks.

The center allows veterans to access resources, study, and hang out with fellow military.

“It means a lot,” Rodriquez said.

Department of Veterans Affairs rehabilitation counselors are housed in the resource center to help veterans keep on track, and ensure they complete required testing, paperwork, and enrollment to receive earned veterans benefits and monthly stipends.

College counselors also have office space in the center to assist veterans with mapping out education plans, and meeting day to day needs.

Liz LaRosa, MiraCosta student services coordinator for veterans, said providing assistance is a matter of meeting veterans where they are at. Some veterans are have set goals and completed paperwork to start enrollment, others need to be shown the ropes.

A major challenge for veterans is the cost of education.

“We handle emergence loans, and book vouchers,” LaRosa said.

There is also the challenge of transitioning to civilian life. LaRosa said returning to civilian life carries culture shock for most military men and women.

“Traditional students age 17 and 18 don’t have the focus veterans have, or show the same respect,” LaRosa said. “Veterans have to adjust to the lack of structure.”

Brenda Olsen, Department of Veterans Affairs rehabilitation counselor, said the camaraderie and support that military men and women give each other helps them with transitioning.

“When they get together with like individuals they feel less ostracized and alone,” Olsen said.

LaRosa said veterans are great to have around, entertaining, and add a lot to class discussions.

“They’ve had different experiences, a lot of students might not have had,” LaRosa said.

The new center houses most veterans’ services. The Veterans Education Office that processes veterans paperwork is still located in another building. The long-term goal is to bring that office under the same roof.

“More pressing was the lounge and study area,” La Rosa said. “It’s double what it had been before.”

“It’s really wonderful it has come to fruition. It’s needed, and deserved.”

The Nov. 10 celebration also honored Veterans Day, and the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. Traditional songs, speeches and cake cutting were part of the ceremony.

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