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Dedicated to the veteran population

Lauren Matthews found her calling in working with veterans


Lauren Matthews assists veterans as they enroll at South Texas College as the Veteran Affairs certifying official for the Mid-Valley campus in Weslaco.

From helping veterans on the verge of homelessness, to guiding veterans through college enrollment, Lauren Matthews has dedicated her career to offering support to those who have served their country.

Matthews, of Mission, has been the Veteran Affairs certifying official at the South Texas College Mid-Valley campus in Weslaco for the past five years.

STC and the Office of Student Veteran Affairs are committed to helping veterans, active military, reservists, spouses and dependents meet their educational goals. Matthews is exactly the person to contact to provide guidance in the Mid-Valley.

Matthews said her job includes calculating tuition and fees, making sure veterans follow their degree plan and educating people about available benefits from Veterans Affairs (VA). But, her work goes so much further than the paperwork process.

Matthews finds herself using her previous non-profit experience and educational background in counseling to connect to veterans as they begin their new journey into higher education.

“When I went to undergrad, I did rehabilitation with a concentration in addiction studies. Then, I moved on to rehabilitation counseling since I wanted to do something in that area, because I knew what it was like to be in need of help. I wanted to give that back.”

Lauren Matthews, Veteran Affairs certifying official for STC's Mid-Valley campus

“I enjoy the aspect of being a one-to-one person,” Matthews said. “A lot of the students who come in here are going through some personal issues or problems. Since I talk very openly, they start talking openly and feel comfortable sharing me with.”

Matthews earned an associate degree in Social Work from STC and continued her education at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitative Services and a master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.

Matthews said she enjoyed the learning environment STC provided. Especially since she was someone who loved to learn, but didn’t initially identify as a “school person.”

“I got a taste of what it can be like to have a very good instructor and then make really good grades. And I realized - I'm capable,” Matthews said. “It was a great steppingstone for me to go into higher education. I wanted to do more, to be better.”

But, there was a gap between Matthews’ high school graduation and her time at STC. She experienced issues with substance abuse when she was 17 years old, and recovered with the help of a substance abuse program and different people in her life. That experience moved her to help others.

“When I went to undergrad, I did rehabilitation with a concentration in addiction studies,” Matthews said. “Then, I moved on to rehabilitation counseling since I wanted to do something in that area, because I knew what it was like to be in need of help. I wanted to give that back.”

And Matthews has been giving back since. Before working at STC she was part of a nonprofit organization that focused on homelessness prevention among veterans and rapid rehousing.

“We would go to parks and places that were off the side of the expressway, and just all over the (Rio Grande) Valley, from Zapata to South Padre Island,” Matthews said.

While at the nonprofit, Matthews said she formed partnerships with like-minded people who also did outreach. This currently helps her connect veterans studying at STC with other resources.

“If someone, in our conversations, says that they’re hurting for rent or need food, I know about resources or who they can contact,” Matthews said.

Matthews explained how veterans feel reluctant to open up to just anybody.

“I'm not a veteran myself, but my dad is, so I know that side of it,” Matthews said. “I’ve been working with veterans exclusively. So, I understand the population, and I know their needs and common behaviors.”

Matthew’s office was originally located within the STC Financial Aid department, but when a larger space opened, she transformed it into part office and part lounge for veterans, their spouses and dependents. Matthews said students have access to computers and printers, or can even use the space to simply decompress.

“They can come in here and just hang out in between classes and talk with other veterans,” Matthews said. “It’s a safe space.”

Matthews said because many of the veterans are older returning students, or starting school for the first time, she wants to make sure they feel confident with technology and avoid any frustrating situations.

“I will give personal attention to show step-by-step processes if they’ve never done it before,” Matthews said. “I enjoy working with veterans because that's a population I care about. That’s my favorite population to work with. I just try to be encouraging and

let them it takes time. I tell them, ‘You've been doing other important things. This? You can do this, not a problem.’”

To contact the STC Veterans Affairs, visit www.southtexascollege.edu/veterans/.