A cozy, makeshift haven is tucked away in a corner on the Bakersfield College campus. Near the not-so-up-to-date campus center lies an approximate 750-square foot lounge full of veteran students.
Here, they come here to study, socialize and support one another. A single leather couch, along with a 10 or so chairs adorn the floor in the main lounge. The majority, both males and females fill the cramped space, doing homework or talking. The location will change but not the camaraderie.
Tentatively, by fall 2019, the Vernon Venezuela Veterans Resource Center, being built across from the current veterans lounge, will be a completed 4,715 square-foot state-of-the-art mecca.
Venezuela was a four-decade serving veteran from Bakersfield, who died in 2012. An Army veteran, he was awarded the purple heart for combat injury. He earned his masters in seven years, beginning his journey at BC through the G.I. bill.
Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian was on board early on since 2015. She challenged Faculty Director of Veteran Services Paul Beckworth to create such a foundation to build support. Well, the veterans at BC finally got it.
$7 million will go toward the new features and upholding the VRC.
The VRC will have a lounge/coffee area, a study area, a computer station with free printing (for veterans only), a conference room, and a revolving office accommodating different veteran organizations that will come to BC week-to-week.
“We’re really excited, it seems this is all coming together,” said Beckworth.
A grant of $200,000 was recently awarded to help accommodate the Venezuela VRC from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors.
“We’re going to bring in professional tutors, laptops and anything the VRC won’t be able to provide,” said Beckworth. He added that they have never received grants before.
“It’s exciting to see what we can do with it,” added Beckworth with enthusiasm. Beckworth served in the Navy from 1989 to 1993, serving tours in Somalia and in the Gulf War.
According to Beckworth, 40 percent of student veterans graduate within three years, compared to the general population (20 percent) and have higher success rates. An approximate 800 veteran students out of the 21,000 students roam the BC campus in search for more.
That number is only the ones identified, as many veterans don’t because of various reasons. One of those identified students taking advantage of his opportunity is Wenceslao Medrano.
Medrano, 33, is a student and vice president of the BC Veterans Club. He served for four years (2007-2011) in the Marines. A psychology major, he wants to be a counselor for veterans like him after he graduates. Medrano spent his time in Iraq handling a gun on a Humvee.
“It was just different atmosphere [in Iraq],” said Medrano.
A childhood dream of his, Madrano envisioned himself as a Marine. After the tragic events of 9/11, he enlisted. After he served, he wanted an education.
“We have to take advantage of the G.I. bill and better education,” advocated Medrano.
He described his transition from Marine to BC student in 2009.
“The mindset was a little harder, being 33 years old compared to 18-to 19-year old students in class not caring.” He said the veterans reaching out to him was helpful and praised the staff.
Armando Trujillo, 39, a member of the staff, served as a Marine from 1997-2003. Trujillo, an educational adviser for veteran students has seen the change.
“If you build it, they’ll come,” he said, reflecting. The services were limited in 2010, then the lounge was created.
“Since then, it’s been identifying what a student veteran needs,” said Trujillo.
He made clear there was a difference in each veteran student and applies individuality to accommodate everyone.
Trujillo said veteran students’ needs and struggles vary, so the privacy in new offices in the VRC will help tenfold.
Measure J passed in 2016, paving the way for a better future for veterans at BC and the surrounding community.
Christian said: “The Veterans Resource Center is a supportive and welcoming environment for returning veterans and their dependents working to achieve their academic goals and toward degree completion. Over the past five years, enrollment of student veterans at BC has grown by 40 percent with veterans interested in all pathways including Business, STEM, and Nursing to name a few.”
Humble beginnings are an understatement for the veteran services at BC. The lounge was the launchpad for better veteran accommodations.
For more information, visit www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/veterans. ￼