New PCC Veterans Center symbol of change for veteran-students - Tucson News Now

New PCC Veterans Center is symbol of change for veteran-students

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Pima Community College is making a new commitment to former military service members on campus.

There was a ceremony at the PCC Downtown Campus Friday to honor veterans and to highlight the programs available for them at Pima College.

Speakers included veterans and college administrators.

Those gathered heard about veterans' contributions to higher education and, in particular, their part in the "fabric" of the college and of Tucson.

One speaker said, "On this Veterans Day let us pay tribute to our heroes...honor them for their service and devotion to our country."

PCC seems to be working hard to change its image when it comes to how it treats its student-veterans.

There had been charges that PCC's Veterans Center had actually alienated many students who felt uncomfortable there and who felt their concerns were falling on deaf ears.

The college's new chancellor, Dr. Lee Lambert, has been making big changes.

Some of the biggest: Administrators at the downtown campus have been replaced and the Veterans Center is moving to a new, larger space.

We visited the current PCC Veterans Center.

It's a small, cramped and crowded, two-room office on the PCC Downtown Campus.

More than 1,600 veterans are enrolled at PCC in any given semester.

Veterans go to the center to do homework, to have some quiet time or to get assistance with paperwork, for instance.

The new center that's being renovated for the veterans seems to be a symbol of the college's renewed commitment to serve its student-veterans.

The old center measures about 500 square feet.

The new one is about three times that size and is just across the way from the old one on the downtown campus.

The college is incorporating ideas from student-veterans into the new $35,000 center.

Many veterans are just starting to make the transition from the military and overseas deployments to life as a college student.

They are seeing a huge change from what things were like on campus just a few short months ago.

"From that point forward, we have seen a complete one-80 change on how things are issued and how the programs are being integrated. These things have happened within that time frame. We have integrated two new programs that we're working on, as well as moving the Vet Center to a newer location," says Marine Veteran and Pima Community College Student Veteran Association Vice President Richard Mendoza.

"The school is working very hard to work with the student-veterans and make us feel definitely at home here and part of the academic culture. They've actually started doing programs, introducing the teachers to our culture so they're not quite as taken aback when we end up in their classes," says U.S. Army Veteran Robert Tobara, a founding member of the Pima Community College Student Veterans Association.

Tobara says many veteran students are older.

He says even those who are in their late teens or early 20's may have seen combat and been in leadership positions.

Tobara says student-veterans tend to study harder and are accustomed to working toward a goal.

Mendoza explains there must be a transition from highly-structured military life to a college environment.

He says veterans can have specific needs that other students do not.

Mendoza explains further, saying veterans may have a preference for a certain seat in the classroom where they feel more comfortable.

He says they are not yet accustomed to a more relaxed atmosphere.

At the new Veterans Center everything from the positioning of the computers to how the "quiet room" is set up will be intended to help student-veterans feel at ease as they get used to the new environment.

The center also will help veterans with complicated paperwork, both military and college.

PCC'S new Veterans Center is set to be open for the spring semester.

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