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Veterans Success Center supports students who have served in the military and their families

Jennifer Gomez (from left), Mario Garza, Kristina Brown, Elias Kruse, and Earl Crouchley hang out in the Veterans Success Center with Crouchley's dog, Driver. The center, established in 2010, is a place for student-veterans to get help accessing resources as well as connect with their peers. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Sacramento State graduate student Earl Crouchley has set foot in 13 countries on four continents and swam in every ocean other than the Arctic — all thanks to his years in the U.S. Navy.

An aircraft mechanic who left military service after getting clipped in the knee by a taxing jet, Crouchley now wants to dedicate his life to helping other veterans.

“I loved it. I wouldn’t change it for a minute,” Crouchley, 35, said. “There was a grieving process when I left.”

Friday, Nov. 11, marks Veterans Day, when the nation honors those who have served in the United States armed forces. But at Sac State’s Veterans Success Center, student-vets are celebrated every day.

Crouchley and other center staff help U.S. military veterans, reservists, and their dependents navigate higher education and civilian life, providing a safe space to study, plot their futures, and find camaraderie with fellow vets.

“This is a place where they share a common bond, a brotherhood or sisterhood,” Veterans Success Center Director Austin Sihoe said. “They can be who they are when they come in here. They’re among their people.”

“When service members get out of the military, we are kind of lost. It’s nice to have somewhere to go and find people you can relate to and have shared experiences with who can help guide you in your transition.” -- Jennifer Gomez, Sacramento State student-veteran

Established in 2010, the Veterans Success Center currently serves about 1,500 students. Its primary purpose is to help with the sometimes-tricky process of accessing veterans education benefits and enrolling in the right classes to keep those benefits.

Sihoe is also working to rebuild the center’s robust career pathways program, most of which was shut down during the pandemic. The program helps students find civilian jobs once they graduate from Sac State, and offers resources such as cover letter- and resume-writing tips, a clothes closet of gently used professional outfits, and “speed interviews” with prospective employers.

“The whole goal was to perfect your elevator pitch,” Sihoe said. “We had a bunch of tables lined up with panels of human resource managers from different sectors and industries all over the Sacramento region. Students had two minutes to leave a lasting impression.”

The program also teaches students how to network both in person and on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. 

Although some features may go online, such as Zoom or LinkedIn Learning webinars, Sihoe hopes to find funding to bring back in-person events such as field trips to employers like Intel and the Department of Justice and formal dinners to teach proper etiquette.

“The last two or three years we haven’t had any events, so we’re hoping to really revamp the program,” Sihoe said. “I want to emphasize though that nothing beats real-life practice, right?

“With people going back into the office, interviews may or may not be over Zoom anymore, so students need to be prepared for both.”

Located on the third floor of Lassen Hall, the Veterans Success Center is also a place for students to study or relax between classes. They can use computers, a printer, and even a fridge to store food.

This fall, the center also started offering twice-weekly counseling services through a partnership with the College of Education.

Crouchley, who earned his undergraduate degree at Sac State and is now finishing his master’s in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling, helps students select courses and explore career options, while also lending an empathetic ear.

“There was a definite adjustment and period of unwindment, when I got out,” said Crouchley, who spent five years living on the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan. “You go from working with the same group of people every day in a very regimented structure, to freedom to do absolutely nothing.

“So, there’s definitely an identity loss right there.”

These days, Crouchley and his golden retriever Driver, a semi-retired canine therapy dog, can be seen around campus escorting other student-veterans to various services.

“Sometimes you just need somebody to walk with you,” Crouchley said. “Counseling isn’t necessarily to take everything on, but it’s to walk beside you in your journey.”

Sihoe said many student-veterans are hesitant to open up to counselors who haven’t served in the military, particularly if they’re struggling with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder or having difficulty assimilating back to civilian life.

Often, students just want to vent to a fellow veteran, Sihoe said.

“They don’t feel like they’re understood,” Sihoe said. “Unless you’ve gone through a foreign war campaign or served in the military, how are you going to relate to them?”

Austin Sihoe sits at a computer, with Mario Garza looking over his shoulder, in the Veterans Success Center
Veterans Success Center Director Austin Sihoe, left, and School Certifying Official Mario Garza, are among the staff members who assist the approximately 1,500 student-veterans the center serves. “They can be who they are when they come in here," Sihoe says. "They’re among their people.” (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

In addition to counseling services, center staff helped transfer student and Marines Corps veteran Jennifer Gomez, 23, relaunch Sigma Omega Delta, a coed fraternity for student-veterans that fizzled during the pandemic.

“When I was at orientation, I saw there were over 300 clubs on campus and not one of them was a veterans club,” Gomez said. “That didn’t make sense to me.

“It had fallen into the abyss, but I came and rubbed the lamp and shook the genie out.”

Sigma Omega Delta meets in the center at noon every Tuesday and Thursday, usually drawing between five and 10 student-veterans who just hang out and get to know one another.

Gomez had never left California – or seen falling snow – until joining the Marines her senior year of high school.

“My first day in Japan, I got off the plane, and there’s snow falling from the sky. It was insane,” said Gomez, who was stationed for three years as a field radio operator in Iwakuni, about 45 minutes south of Hiroshima.

Her duties included organizing social gatherings and trips to Tokyo for her fellow service members, so it’s not surprising she’s also taken over the Veterans of CSUS Discord account.

With a membership of about 30 vets, discussion topics include everything from Hornet football tailgate parties to a new federal law making it easier for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits to receive compensation and care.

The membership in both groups ranges from those who left the military a few months ago to those who have been out for 10-plus years.

“When service members get out of the military, we are kind of lost,” Gomez said. “It’s nice to have somewhere to go and find people you can relate to and have shared experiences with who can help guide you in your transition.”

The Veterans Success Center will host private events in honor of Veterans Day. For more information on how to help the Veterans Success Center, contact Austin Sihoe.

For more information about Sigma Omega Delta, contact Jennifer Gomez.

Jennifer Gomez and Elias Kruse, in the Veterans Success Center, posing for a photo near a computer
Jennifer Gomez, seen here with Elias Kruse and Driver, relaunched the coed fraternity Sigma Omega Delta when she learned there were no student organizations for student-veterans. The group meets twice weekly in the Veterans Success Center. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

 

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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