Veteran Connection and Support Center ready to serve
Although the official grand opening is still being planned, the Veteran Connection and Support Center at the Irvine campus quietly opened its doors last week to begin serving veteran and military students in the Irvine area.
Welcoming guests to the new center were Amy Repp, who will provide counseling services, and Chris Schuldes, who serves as the veteran coordinator. Together they hope to provide veteran and military students with both a way to connect to each other and a place to find additional services, particularly training in assistive technology.
Rounding out the veteran services team are Assistant Vice Chancellor Loren O’Connor, overseeing accessibility services for all students, and Alex Price, providing technical and counseling support after hours for all students qualifying for accessibility services.
How the center came about
Dennis Repp, Amy Repp’s father, helped fund a similar veterans support program at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Approached to make a financial contribution as an alumnus, Dennis Repp wanted something more meaningful than contributing to that university’s athletic program. His financial donation led to the creation of the New Start for Student-Veterans Program, providing individualized services and support for student veterans who had been injured.
Amy Repp, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) also wanted to contribute but because she lives in California, she started looking for a university program her family could fund here and where she could take an active role. Family relationships led her to Chancellor Gary Brahm and Brandman University.
Amy Repp’s career includes being a school counselor but she also worked for the Department of Defense, counseling military dependents in Germany.
“That’s where I really started to appreciate the needs and opportunities to support our military. It really just became a passion of mine. I can’t think of a more deserving population to serve,” she said.
“This program is special because so many of our military members sustain life-changing injuries while they are serving but still have aspirations of going to school or starting a new career,” said Repp. “Brandman is a really good fit because we were essentially founded on a military base. We already have so many veterans and service members as students. This furthers Saul Brandman’s vision.”
Speaking the language
Although Repp worked with military families, she’s depending on Schuldes and his experience as both a member of the Air Force Reserves and a Brandman Student to provide a bridge to students.
Schuldes’s job will be to “speak the language” of active service and veteran students.
“I don’t want to see this being like all the other veterans’ centers that are just there to say they’re military friendly. I need to really be able to talk to them and have them open up and realize that ultimately this is for them. It’s not just sugar coating,” said Schuldes.
Schuldes’s role will be veteran-to-veteran, making them comfortable enough with the concept of counseling and overcoming any bravado or “suck-it-up culture” that might get in the way of asking for help. He’ll also be on hand to help explain everything from Brandman’s usual education tools, such as Blackboard, to specific programs and tools that are available through the Office of Accessible Education and Counseling Services.
Schuldes, who completed his Master of Public Administration (MPA) in August and immediately started in the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program, is still working on ideas for serving veterans, but he’s also thinking about ideas for research, including looking at the elements that are missing from the veteran college experience in a nontraditional setting such as Brandman.
He says his experience as a student will allow him to help other students sort out what are traditional struggles for anyone returning to school from the difficulties they might be having because of post-traumatic stress (often called PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI), both which can affect concentration and other skills needed to learn at the college level.
A place to feel comfortable
More than anything, the new center is designed to provide a comfortable place to relax and talk veteran-to-veteran. Comfortable chairs and a couch, a map to track all the various places students, faculty and staff have served and framed large logos of each branch of the military drew immediate praise from the Brandman faculty and staff who visited on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Antoinette Raines, who served six years in the Air Force and currently works in human resources at the university, placed a pin on Okinawa, one of the six places she served as a security police officer.
Being in the military, she said, gives a person a different mindset. “You think differently, not because of war, but because you’ve belonged to a brotherhood, a sisterhood that you don’t get just by working with someone. So this is a great place to find someone who understands.”
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