‘Military Friendly’ More than Just a ‘Mantra’ at STC
Enrique Cervantes wasn’t just serving his country during his time in the U.S. Army, he was sharpening his skills for college.
He just didn’t know it, yet.
“Throughout the service, we were taught to always be prepared, be on time, be a team player and a leader, stay proactive, find solutions and ‘never-give-up’ state of mind,” says Cervantes, a graduate of STC’s Occupational Therapy Assistance program. “Military life and training that has been instilled has made me a better college student.”
Cervantes’ path mirrors the experience of so many South Texas veterans: Fresh out of the service, bearing high-level life, work and collaboration skills, but often lacking a clear career direction, not to mention the higher education necessary to find it.
“It’s like being fired from a job, it’s not easy,” says Jessie Luna, Coordinator of Veterans Enrollment Services at South Texas College. “We like to emphasize that the skills they develop … those are the skills we’re looking for – determined and motivated, just like in the military.”
Proudly bearing an official Military Friendly™ designation, South Texas College has made higher education access to military families a priority. That important edict starts with the proper application of benefits and the development of an educational plan, and continues with high-touch support efforts, covering both general and veteran-specific aspects of the college experience.
“STC really represents the military-friendly mantra we carry,” says Luna. “We don’t just send them to class and forget about them.”
Cervantes knows firsthand the struggles of navigating the higher education quagmire. His initial attempt at college, at a four-year institution, was thwarted by miscommunications, bureaucracy, and other barriers typical to the experience of many college-bound veterans.
“I originally did not know just how vet-friendly South Texas College was,” says Cervantes. “I … hit many roadblocks and headaches and naturally assumed all colleges were alike.
“I soon realized just how much STC does for the veteran community.”
"I originally did not know just how vet-friendly South Texas College was. I … hit many roadblocks and headaches and naturally assumed all colleges were alike. I soon realized just how much STC does for the veteran community."
Today, Cervantes is continuing his educational journey by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership at South Texas College. The college was the first in the State of Texas to offer a Competency-Based Bachelor of Applied Science in Organizational Leadership, which allows students to apply prior learning experience to complete the program faster.
STC’s commitment to South Texas veterans encompasses a wide range of services, both in and out of the classroom. Upon enrollment, veteran students work with a dedicated counselor to determine eligibility for benefits, such as those provided by the federal GI Bill and Reserve Educational Assistance Program, and the state-level Hazelwood Act.
“As a veteran enters [STC], we try to determine what they’re trying to do with higher education so we can guide them,” says Luna.
Much like in the military, that support endures long past “basic training.” Once all benefits are processed and the veteran begins making the transition to college, STC’s Veterans Affairs department remains active, providing assistance with basic needs, mental health, tutoring, career planning, and more.
According to Cervantes, it was this support system that set South Texas College apart from his previous attempt at higher education.
“It is a little frustrating at times when classes and homework becomes overwhelming, but with the help of the resources like the fox-hole at STC, school has been bearable,” he says. “The amount of support from other veterans at campus also helps tremendously.”
“Veterans helping veterans” is a recurring theme at STC, as the college’s reputation continues to foster a cooperative community for military families. Through its “Operation Mayday” program, STC student vets provide critical services to struggling veterans in the community, all while completing degree-relevant coursework. The program works by identifying needs in the local veteran community, and customizing discipline-specific student projects to meet those needs.
“The Veteran student needs a capstone project to get that certificate,” says Luna of the initiative is being done in coordination with the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing. “They’re projects to support the needs of veterans in crisis AND fulfill project requirements for STC career ed students.”
South Texas College serves almost 900 veterans and dependents annually, with more departing out of Afghanistan and Iraq every day. STC is proud of its “military friendly” moniker, and continues to work to improve services to transition heroes in the region. For more information about support and services for Veteran students at STC, visit https://www.southtexascollege.edu/veterans/