Veteran Joseph Chang, coordinator of the university's Veterans Student Services, earned his bachelor's degree from Cal State Fullerton in 2007, after serving in Iraq.Photo by Karen Tapia
From Student to Coordinator
Iraq War veteran and Alumnus Joseph Chang Founded University's Veterans Student Services
One thing veteran and Cal State Fullerton alumnus Joseph Chang (B.S. Human Services, 2007), coordinator of the university's Veterans Student Services, understands is how much returning veterans count on one another for support, advice and encouragement.
When Chang returned to the university in 2007, following a tour of duty with the Army in Iraq, he looked for fellow veterans. Upon discovering there was no organized student veterans association on campus, he started one as a student intern. The initial group had five members.
Today, more than three years later, Veterans Student Services has grown considerably, with Chang at the helm. There are now 445 self-identified veterans on campus, although Chang believes the actual number may be higher, and he’s eager to offer new programs and services.
“We started out as a lunch get-together,” he recalled. “And now, we are one of the largest contingents from California when we recently attended the Student Veterans of America national conference in Washington, DC.”
During his three-year tenure, Chang has seen interest in the program escalate. The first year that a Veteran’s Appreciation event was held, 170 people showed up. Last spring, more than 350 turned out. And two $1,000 scholarships were rewarded to student vets.
Chang, however, is not content to savor the growth of the program.
He’d like to offer three to five scholarships of $1,000 each.
He also is concerned about the 75 student veterans who have exhausted their benefits or have no benefits but want to complete their education.
“Veterans are taught that they should be self-sufficient and they don’t want to apply for financial aid,” he said. “But, there are many in need. Our goal is to work with them and provide information on how to work with liaisons in the financial aid offices so they can continue on toward their degrees. Ideally, our goals are to provide transitional and emotional support, offer a place for socialization and serve as a resource for student vets.”
With support from Student Affairs and the WoMen's Center, Chang has successfully applied for grants to expand program offerings.
He plans to develop a math and English tutoring center and to provide programs specifically designed for female veterans.
“Women veterans are unique and often feel isolated from male groups,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for us to reach out to them.”
To that end, Chang recently hired a part-time assistant coordinator to develop a women’s program.
“Sometimes women don’t necessarily see themselves as vets,” he said. “They are less likely to come forward. We want to make sure that we are providing services to them as well as to the men.”
A new women veterans’ lunch group has launched and, so far, about 10 women are participating.
Veterans Student Services has played an active role in developing the Wall of Heroes, featuring about 60 different veterans.
The program also is trying to send 100 holiday care packages to troops in Afghanistan. Since it costs $10 per box to ship, Chang is trying to raise $1,000 to cover mailing costs.
“I’m very proud of the SVA,” he said. “It’s a structured, well-organized and highly motivated organization. Our goal was always to create a place for camaraderie, networking and advocacy on behalf of our student veterans. Our role now is growing. In fact, local community colleges have contacted us to see about how they might start similar programs.”
As a human services graduate, Chang brought those skills to establishing the program.
“This is a human services-based operation,” he explained. “Our goal has always been to embrace and empower veterans with respect and honor. It’s worked out well. More student veterans are willing to join or seek us out. They know that they will find fellow veterans who are willing to support and be there for them.”
November 10, 2010