Two years ago, at the age of 26, Enming Luo felt he had to go back to Afghanistan – he said he needed to carry his own share of burden of defending the United States.
“Going to Afghanistan is not (a) matter of volunteering. There was a system of repayment,” Luo said.
He was there just five years before,leading 41 Marines, carrying out operations to remove improvised explosive devices from a field, said Luo a graduate student at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
In July 2012, Luo stepped onto the civilian life, having to shift very quickly into a different lifestyle.
Luo is one of the 419 veterans and active duty members who study at UCLA. The number of undergraduate veterans at UCLA has doubled in the last four years. Like many other veterans, Luo said he faced challenges of transitioning into civilian life as a student.
Luo had to adapt back to cultural and demographic differences in civilian life, from the way he talked to people in a formal setting to dealing with the lack of thecamaraderie, he said.
UCLA launched the Veteran Initiative in January to increase the visibility of on-campus resources and opportunities available for veterans. Such resources include the peer mentoring program at the Veteran Resource Office and the UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services’s “Boots to Bruins” Fiat Lux class in which veterans meet and talk about challenges they face on campus, said Emily Ives, the director for the office.
Yet there remains much work to be done in the outreach and the support for veterans at UCLA, said Dani Molina, a graduate student in information studies.
The additional support the administration has provided will not pay off immediately because veterans come from a wide range of backgrounds, he added.
Luo said he thinks the Anderson School’s efforts to accommodate veterans have been very successful.
He took part in a 12-day orientation for all Anderson students in September 2012 where he participated in team-building exercises such as tailgating with his classmates and attending lectures.
He said he found those experiences helpful in building close relationships like those developed in the Marines.
Anderson provided a platform for him to make connections with other veterans and civilians, Luo said.
However, Molina said finding friends has been a challenge for him. Molina said he found it difficult to relate to others because of his older age and his background in the army.
David Ayvazyan, a former Air Force staff sergeant and a fourth-year electrical engineering student, served in the military for six years. He said he had challenges adjusting to college life after the military.
As a leader in the Air Force working night shifts from midnight to noon, he said he answered every question from his troops. When he got to college, he was the one asking questions, and he found it difficult to adapt, he said.
“People came to me with questions about my job … I always had answers,” Ayvazyan said. “All of a sudden, I am just a student like everybody else, except I am older than most.”
Michael Benedosso, a graduate student at Anderson and the president of Anderson Military Association, also had to make the transition of coming from the culture of the military system.
He served in Army for five years, first two years as a military intelligence analyst. For last three years, he worked double duty as a boxer for the Army Boxing training programand a platoon leader Fort Carson, Colo.
Benedosso said it took time for him to adjust to the civilian culture when hefirst came to Anderson in September 2012. He said he found it initially difficult to adjust to the rigor of classes, but the support offered such as the fellowship he received and workshops on resumes and interviews helped him greatly.
While the visible support helped, Benedosso said feeling welcome and invited was the most important part of adapting to a life at UCLA. Being part of a community of veterans was crucial to him because connections have helped him seek out for opportunities and academic support, he said.
Molina said he thinks UCLA as a whole can also help veterans feel welcome and invited by hiring more veteran staff and faculties and learning more about the veteran population here.
So far, the Veteran Resource Team, employed members from different departments from admission to financial aid, helps to provide veterans with connections and institutional support, Ives said. The team has about 20 members, but not all of them are veterans.
However, Ives emphasized that not all veterans are the same.
“Everybody can be in a different situation and with family and partners, there’s not one recipe for success for everyone. It’s really individual and what individual wants that we support,” Ives said.