Manager of Veterans Services strives to provide more support


Courtesy of Jose Alferez

Bridget Kingston , Features Editor

Jose Alferez, manager of Veterans Services at College of DuPage joined the Marines in 2003 at the age of 18, and was stationed in Twentynine Palms, California. After two tours of Iraq during his four years of active duty, he returned home as a sergeant and finished out his inactive duty at home, where he enrolled at COD as student. Alferez gave insight on his experience as a student veteran, how COD’s Veterans Services are working to support current student veterans, and what Veterans Day means to him.

BK: What was the transition from serving in the military to returning back to life at home like?

JA: It was tough, initially. The first couple of years I was not employed full time, I was going to college full time, and it was rough. I didn’t know where to go, or who to use as a resource. I went here to College of DuPage, and at the time I was here, this [Veterans Services] did not exist. There was one full-time, certified, official employee, and I think she had maybe one student worker assisting her. But the population of student veterans was relatively the same, it was still around 600-700 students. The transition was hard because I would have gone to that person and asked for help, but it was just very difficult for that person to handle the volume. As far as the social-emotional transition, that actually wasn’t too bad for me because I was fortunate enough that two of the guys that I served with, in my exact platoon unit, both moved out here. We were actually roommates and went to school together. I kind of brought my team home with me. I know a lot of guys don’t have that, and so they do struggle more.


BK: You were a student veteran at COD yourself, and you said there wasn’t much assistance for veterans at that time. How do you see it has changed over the years and how is the transition for student veterans different now?

JA: There is just a lot of support. First off, just the numbers alone. We’re at four full-time staff, two part-time staff, four to five student workers at any given time, we have the Veterans Lounge and there’s an actual Veterans Office. It’s a visible show of support from the school that we do care about our student veterans. The Veterans Day programming, again, stuff that didn’t really happen back then. I like to think of it now, that if you’re a veteran on campus, I would find it very hard to believe that you couldn’t find any services on campus. That would be very difficult just because we’re actually tracking and reaching out to veterans when they apply, and even dependents of veterans as well as married to a veteran. We reach out to them. We communicate with them. There is definitely a consecutive effort made by the school to make sure that student veterans know the services are here. Whether they use them or not, but at least they know that we’re here and we want to help them. Also we have a lot of partnerships with the local veterans organizations like the DuPage County Veterans Commision and the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. If a student comes here and says ‘Hey I’m struggling with homelessness,’ I don’t just say ‘Sorry, that’s not what I do here.” We can actually provide them with the services they need. Because it’s not all education related services they need, unfortunately. Sometimes its health care, or homelessness.


BK: How has serving in the military shaped your life thus far?

JA: I think about where I would have been without it. I was a 1.9 GPA high school student; no vision of college; higher education was something somebody else did, not something that we did where I grew up. Joining the military gave me a sincere appreciation for hard work and getting through a very difficult life. Again, as much as I enjoyed the military it is very difficult, and it really gave me an appreciation for the value of an education. After I got out, and just seeing some of the people that I was serving with that were getting out after 20 or 30 years in the Marines, and having to start over  because they had no education or very limited education, I just didn’t want to be put in that position. I got out in May of 2007, and by August of that same year I was already in school. I just persisted. Persistence is another thing that the military has instilled in me. It’s the ability to stick to something and set a goal, despite the fact that it may take you five, six years to get there. You just have to keep seeing the value in it until the end. For me, that was key.


BK: After your time at COD, did you continue your education anywhere else?

JA: I transferred to Northern Illinois University and finished my Bachelors degree in international politics there. I then went on Northwestern University for graduate school where I finished my public policy administration degree. I think a lot of times, as veterans we sell ourselves short. Because a lot of them are along those same lines of the type of student that I was, where you’re not even thinking about college, and if you are, you’re thinking that you’re just going to go the schools around you. It’s hard to think outside the box. A lot of veterans don’t think about Stanford, and they wonder ‘Can I even go to Yale?’ And the answer is of course they can. Schools like that are actually searching for student veterans. That’s how Northwestern came about with me. I had a mentor ask ‘Why are you just looking in your immediate area? You also have these highly-selective schools that you can go to, and I think that student veterans are starting to get that more, that they can be competitive in those fields too.


BK: That’s interesting. So since you can’t really be thinking about school when you’re in the military I can see how difficult it could be to suddenly come home and have to think about it again. Do a lot of veterans find themselves at community colleges for this purpose?

JA: Yes, exactly. It’s close and convenient. And a lot of them have been away from home for so long that they return back to their homes and attend the local schools. The idea that you just spent four years wherever, and now you’re coming home for a couple weeks to leave again and go off to school, is kind of strange and unsettling. So you do see that quite a bit, veterans going to their community college initially. And a lot of them do become more comfortable with higher education and get themselves in a better place and restructure themselves a bit, and will go on to larger schools. The other difficulty is that a lot of them have families already. I was single and didn’t have any kids but there’s people coming back who have children and spouses, so they can’t just leave and go away to school. They usually try to stay local.


BK: What does Veterans Day mean to you?

JA: Not that I ever forget them, but to remember all those men and women that put on that uniform and raise their right hands to defend this constitution. Really I wish these people were more on the forefront of our population more days of the year rather than one day in November, but again this day is really special. For me, it means alot. I met my secondary family in the military. I can tell you that there were men that I served with that I talk to more than my own family at times. I can relate to them a lot more because of the difficult experiences we went through and came out of together. You know we were there for each other’s’ birthdays, and your family members’ birthdays, and christenings, you name it. So for me, Veterans Day is really just a Thanksgiving for my secondary family. You remember your family that you spent really a significant amount of time with and a very significant type of time with. There were really high times and the lowest of low times.