New Center Opens to Help SMC Vets

In the quad Noah Cruz may appear as a normal student, but he is far from ordinary, displaying Santa Monica College's well-known diverse student population. Cruz, a 23-year-old kinesiology student, has served two tours of duty in Iraq (stationed in the city of Fallujah) since September 2007, each of which was seven months long.

Cruz is one of the 300 student veterans projected to be attending SMC, and the population of students in his demographic is continuing to grow. Each of these students has their own set of goals and needs, dealing with several challenges integrating back into society, and now they have a place to call their own—the SMC Veterans Center.

This fall semester, SMC opened a new veterans center in an old faculty office complex. The center provides a space for veterans to come together and have a sense of community, but it also provides a plethora of other resources. The facility provides a counselor, a free textbook lending library, a meeting room and a computer-tutoring room.  And that's not all; it has big plans for the future, such as establishing an emergency loan fund.

Veterans have many individually specialized needs. Most commonly they will experience stress disorders and various other psychological issues.

Others struggle integrating back into civilian society, while some struggle with financial problems. Some even struggle with problems in the classroom, many soldiers are "hyper-vigilant" and have developed difficulties paying attention in class due to being trained to always be alert. This can cause problems in the classroom and requires a joint effort between teacher and student veteran to understand each other's needs.

SMC has been making great steps since 2005 to manage these needs, which have been fueled mostly in part by the efforts of Linda Sinclair, the center's current coordinator. Sinclair is the brain behind the operation; she teaches a Student Success Seminar catered to veterans, volunteers with Vietnam veterans who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, and she has worked with soldiers suffering from brain injury in the SMC Center for Students with Disabilities. She is eager to further the centers resources as the program moves forward, with hopes of expanding their staff and creating access to even more services.  Some of those services would be the establishment of a scholarship fund, a community advisory group, and a series of lectures with speakers from notable veterans associations.

Already, there are several SMC student veteran success stories. Many of which have transferred into schools such as UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, and other top-ranking universities. Others have started their own businesses, pursued medical careers, and have branched off into other veteran organizations. Though there have been many successes, Sinclair notes that it is very easy for student veterans to fall by the wayside, and that's what she is truly looking to change.

Currently the SMC veteran's center serves mostly Iraq war veterans, all of them with different stories and needs. But according to Cruz, "Everyone played a different role. You have some guys who went through hell and others who may have stayed at the base. It doesn't matter; we all can benefit from this place."

The SMC Veteran Student Center is located in Room 135 of the Liberal Arts Building and is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday.