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Honoring those who serve

Kasey Vaughn and Robert George Vaughn
Kasey Vaughn '12 receives her first salute from her grandfather Robert George Vaughn ’48, MA ’50. (Photo/Aaron Seid)

Jeffrey Ting, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan, came to USC as a sophomore accounting major in fall 2010. Moving from military life to student life can be tough, he said. Ting and his fellow veterans are not only older than most other students on campus, he explained, “but we also have a unique life experience.”

He sees a metaphor for his situation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

“Frodo and his companions come from a very peaceful world, and then they go through this incredible adventure. When they get back, they feel isolated because they’ve done things no one else there has ever done or ever will do. Transitioning back to a peaceful life isn’t always possible to the perfect degree.”

USC helps student veterans navigate that challenge. Transfer and Veteran Student Programs (TVSP), the USC Veterans Association, the Schoen Family Scholarship Program for Veterans and other campus initiatives create a supportive environment that fosters their academic success.

USC has a long history of commitment to those who serve in this country’s armed forces. During World War I, the university became a training school for Army officers. When the United States entered World War II, USC was selected as a naval preparatory flight cadet school and became a host institution for Marine Corps, Army and Navy training programs. An accelerated academic course was created, enabling military students to complete their degrees in record time.

The influx of returning veterans after the two world wars brought periods of enormous growth for USC. Before Pearl Harbor, for example, the university enrolled about 6,000 students. As the student body swelled with returning veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill, enrollment peaked at 24,000 in 1948 — the overwhelming majority of students being former service members.

“We have always taken tremendous pride in our men and women who are part of the United States military,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias said. “They arrive at USC with a broad view of the world and its complexities, they want an education and skills, and they want to succeed in life. Their presence — and their contributions — have forever changed USC’s campus culture.”

In addition to supporting veterans who choose to pursue higher education following their military service, the university has a long-standing commitment to hosting the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) — preparing students for leadership in both civilian and military careers. About 130 students from the university’s four ROTC programs (Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy) are enrolled at USC, said Regina Nordahl, associate dean at the USC Price School of Public Policy, which administers the ROTC at USC. “These students represent diverse academic backgrounds, fields of study and personal experiences,” she added.

USC also enrolls nearly 500 student veterans, according to Syreeta Greene, assistant director of TVSP. This new office, which opened in summer 2011, was launched “to let [veterans] know that USC does appreciate the service that they’ve given, and … to let them know they don’t have to go through USC alone,” Greene said in a Neon Tommy: Annenberg Digital News article this year.

TVSP links student veterans with resources, such as the USC Veterans Certifying Office, which helps connect them with federal educational assistance, and hosts programs ranging from peer mentoring to resume workshops. One of Greene’s goals is to expand USC’s participation in Yellow Ribbon, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ matching-scholarship program. Roughly three-quarters of USC’s veteran students receive some form of financial aid.

Last Veterans Day, TVSP led the university’s participation in the Remembrance Day National Roll Call, as more than 100 colleges across the country marked a decade of post-9/11 combat. Trojans gathered on Hahn Central Plaza for an eight-hour ceremony in which students, faculty and staff recited the names of the more than 6,000 casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, since 2008, the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy has organized an annual Veterans Day Appreciation Reception to honor the university’s military community.

USC’s student veterans are also served by a number of student groups, the largest being the USC Veterans Association, formed in October 2008.

Lerri Deguzman

Lerri Deguzman, USC Veterans Association president for 2011-12

Veterans often have special needs for support, said Lerri Deguzman, a former Marine and a business major who was president of the association in 2011-12. Many, for example, have their own families to care for. That financial responsibility, along with the stress of finding a place to live, choosing a major and determining which classes to take, adds to the pressure of an already competitive environment.

“They need to know there’s someone to cover them,” explained Deguzman, who was among the first troops on the ground in Iraq in 2003.

Working with Greene of TVSP, he transformed the association from primarily a social club to an organization that offers concrete assistance — connecting veterans with resources and sponsoring professional development events, for example. He hopes the group will be able to secure a permanent space on campus where student veterans can gather and study.

Deguzman is a grateful beneficiary of yet another resource for veteran students at USC: the Schoen Family Scholarship Program for Veterans, endowed by trustee and Korean War veteran William J. Schoen BS ’60, MBA ’63 and his wife, Sharon, to provide financial support for veterans studying at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and USC Marshall School of Business. Since it began in 1986, the scholarship program has awarded $1.2 million to 173 students.

“Vets really look up to Mr. Schoen and to Mr. [Edward P.] Roski [Jr., chairman of the USC Board of Trustees],” Deguzman said, “because those are two Marines who made it.”

The Schoens’ support for the scholarship program, including a recent $10 million gift, was celebrated in March at USC’s annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner.

“The Veterans Appreciation Dinner is huge,” said Kasey Vaughn ’12, an Air Force ROTC graduate who is training to be an F-16 pilot. She added, “No other school does anything like that — putting on an event for veterans and ROTC students.”

Naval ROTC sophomore Daniel Luciani echoed Vaughn’s appreciation for the assistance military students get at USC. He pointed not only to financial support, such as the $2,000 stipend each ROTC student receives, but also academic and moral support.

“I was hoping for a college that would look at me as an individual student, not a number,” Luciani said. “And USC has taken on that responsibility. From the admissions counselors to the academic advisers to the faculty, everyone at USC wants each student to succeed, and they give us the resources to do our best.”

Luciani added that his fellow students have gone out of their way to extend a special welcome. “Every Thursday, [Naval ROTC students] have to wear our uniforms on campus for our professional development lab,” he said. “There hasn’t been one day when I haven’t been stopped and told, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Read the related story, “Profiles in Courage: USC Students and Military Service.”

Other groups at USC that support military students and their families:

USC Marshall Military Veterans Association

USC Military Social Work Interest Group

USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families 

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