Starting over: San Jacinto College gives veteran students a second chance

12.16.2013 | By Andrea Vasquez



Starting over: San Jacinto College gives veteran students a second chance

Andrea Vasquez -- December 18, 2013



HOUSTON – Structure and stability are two things veterans seek as they transition into civilian life. For many, leaving behind their military family and way of life is an even harder beginning than boot camp. Creating a new network of veteran peers happens slowly, but once those bonds are formed, a new sense of confidence forms. For veterans re-entering the educational realm, their student success often accelerates with a stable network of friends, family, and mentors encouraging them to complete their degree.

San Jacinto College is making great strides to serve student veterans and veterans in the local community. In 2010, the College was awarded a $400,000 grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) from the U.S. Department of Education and received generous donations from the community to convert existing space on each of the three campuses into centralized veteran centers. In 2012, the Centers for Veteran Student Success officially opened their doors as spaces created specifically to meet the needs of veteran students.

“The majority of students have the student center to do their stuff, and we have the veteran center,” said San Jacinto College student and Marine Corp veteran Cam Rojas. “For us, it makes it easier because we’re not having to deal with all the noises of other conversations, and we can talk about anything we want to up there. There’s definitely great interaction between all the vets in there.”

For students like Alexander Reyes, earning a degree counts for more than just a better future for his family, but also for the future of other injured military members as well. In 2007, after being severely injured by an improvised explosive device while conducting a dismounted patrol in Baghdad, the Army sergeant returned home to fight other battles with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), strenuous physical recovery, and transitioning back into civilian life. Learning how to cope and deal with everything motivated him to do the same for other veterans, and now Reyes plans to major in psychology in hopes to be a councilor for veterans suffering from PTSD.

“One thing I learned in college is that I’m not alone,” said Reyes. “Many student veterans return home with conditions like PTSD. Having dealt with it first-hand, I want to be able to help them and let them know that it’s an on-going treatment we’ll face for life, but we don’t have to face it alone.” Reyes will be one step further toward his goal as he graduates in December with plans to transfer to the University of Houston - Clear Lake to complete his bachelor’s degree in psychology.

When it comes to veteran students’ success, resources like the San Jacinto College veteran centers and student organizations like the Student Veteran Association (SVA), provide camaraderie and a space to call their own. But it is faculty and staff members like counselor and staff advisor for the San Jacinto College SVA Irma Graves, who take time to talk to students individually when they need help with anything from enrollment to counseling services. This keeps them engaged and encourages them to continue with their education - a benefit they have no doubt earned the right to.

“San Jacinto College is like a family,” said Graves. “The SVA is also a family within itself. It offers student veterans a way that they can advocate for themselves and for other veterans. They have social activities throughout the year, and it provides them with a network of other veteran students on campus that they can talk to about what’s going on in their classes or at home, which is such a benefit for them to have, especially for new veterans who come in and may still feel intimated by starting school again.”

San Jacinto College has also participated in a number of College-wide projects and events that support community veterans. In 2011, the College participated in the Backpacks for Veterans project, with faculty, staff, and students filling more than 900 drawstring backpacks with toiletries, gas cards, and bus passes to distribute to local veterans assistance agencies. Last year as a service learning initiative, the College developed the Veterans Oral History Project, where faculty and students interviewed and recorded 26 veteran interviews, which have been archived by the College and are included in the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress’ Folklife Center. This year during Veterans Day week and throughout Spring 2014, the College is hosting the Veterans In Our Community Film Festival, which will feature a variety of compelling documentaries and celebrated Hollywood films honoring U.S. veterans and active service members.

“It has been estimated that the Houston region will become home to the largest percentage of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, of any metropolitan area in the U.S.,” said John Boggs, San Jacinto College director of evening, weekend, and campus services. “Our economy, job growth, educational opportunities, and the incredible DeBakey VA Center are all reasons which make Houston veteran friendly.”

Last academic year saw 1,245 new veteran students enroll at San Jacinto College. This year, the College also earned its fourth Military Friendly Schools rating from Victory Media, Inc. and recently a new recognition from Military Times’ Best for Vets Colleges 2014 list. For more information on veteran services, visit


About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150 or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.