Friday, August 31, 2018

UTSA student veterans mentor next generation of America’s military

UTSA student veterans mentor next generation of America’s military

John Casares and David Ripley

(Jan. 18, 2017) -- The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Student Veteran Association (SVA), a registered student organization founded in 2011, has launched a new mentorship program for student Army and Air Force ROTC (AROTC, AFROTC) cadets.

Through the Cadets and Vets Mentor Program, UTSA student veterans from all branches of the military meet weekly with one to two ROTC cadets to discuss everything from their experiences in the military to school life.

Victor Gonzalez, a junior international business major serving as the current president of the SVA, was inspired to create the program to bridge the gap between veterans and cadets.

“As UTSA students and veterans, I feel that it’s important that we never stop serving our community and each other,” Gonzalez said. “Through this new program, we are able to take care of those who come after us by helping prepare them for success in college the best we can. Creating support networks for current and future veterans is one of our organization’s missions.”

Since the program launched last fall, nearly 20 cadets have been paired with student veteran mentors—with more expected this semester. Gonzalez and his fellow SVA officers pair students through an extensive interview process.

“I am so proud of all those who have been involved in the Cadets and Vets Mentor Program so far,” said Lisa Firmin, associate provost for veteran and military affairs at UTSA. “It was a truly great idea to utilize known resources to help others who will be serving soon. The mentoring relationship will help the cadets assimilate more easily and become leaders in the military while also helping mentors in their continued professional development.”

John Casares is one of the program’s mentors. Prior to enrolling at UTSA, he served for 11 years with the U.S. Marine Corps. In his time in the military, he found himself deployed several times around the globe.

“I learned a lot about life, duty and comradery during my time in the military,” said Casares, a junior communications major “I wanted to become a mentor because I know what lies in store for the next generation of military leaders, and I want to help them succeed. I’d be honored if my experiences and advice can somehow make even the slightest difference in my mentees’ lives.”

David Ripley is a junior AROTC cadet majoring in global affairs. Since last fall, he has regularly met with his mentor, Casares.

“It’s been eye-opening to hear about military life from our veterans,” said Ripley. “Meeting with John and other UTSA student veterans has been a great experience. I have learned a lot from them in the short time since the program was established.”

Ripley added that each meeting between him and his mentor is different. To him, it feels less like a check-in than having someone with whom he can discuss his own military experiences, obtain guidance, and talk about strategies for succeeding in and out of the classroom.

Matthew Banuelos, AFROTC cadet liaison and senior computer science major, and Josh White, an Army ROTC cadet and senior kinesiology major, are the program's managers. Together, they help oversee the execution and expansion of the fledgling mentorship program.

“It’s been a great opportunity to help launch and oversee the Cadets and Vets Mentor Program for our cadet comrades and fellow Roadrunners,” said Banuelos. “We’re excited to see the program grow as more mentors and mentees are paired together.”

In the coming years, the UTSA SVA hopes to expand the network of available mentors and mentees, schedule regular group activities for mentors and mentees, and help launch similar programs at other universities in San Antonio and South Texas.

UTSA’s student enrollment includes nearly 3,350 veterans and their spouses and dependents.

The UTSA SVA is a volunteer grass-roots organization of student veteran leaders serving as the primary advocates for student veterans, their families and non-traditional student associates pursuing academic studies.

UTSA provides numerous resources for its veteran and military-affiliated students and is often recognized nationally for its veteran outreach services. Most recently, UTSA dedicated a study room in the John Peace Library at the UTSA Main Campus for use by student veterans.

UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.

- Jesus Chavez


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