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How the Pat Tillman Veterans Center aids its students

Resources help ASU veteran students thrive at the University following years of service


ASU veteran student, Frenard Ganda, stands outside the Pat Tillman Center inside the Memorial Union, in Tempe, Arizona on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.

In or out of uniform, it can be challenging for veteran students to adjust from living on-base to attending a university. With an 18 percent increase of military students this fall, there are now 6,837 active-duty and veteran students enrolled at ASU campuses and ASU Online, according to University reports.

The Pat Tillman Veterans Center provides services at all ASU campuses, including online, to guide veteran students on how to choose a career path and effectively use their benefits for housing, tuition and living costs. In addition, the center also helps students who are actively enlisted in the military.

Some of the programs and resources encouraged for veteran students to get involved with at ASU include VetSuccess, Student Veterans Club, ASU TRIO's Veterans Upward Bound and more.

The director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, Steven Borden, spent 29 years in the Navy and retired as a Navy Captain. Borden has helped veteran students at the University from all four of the main branches in the military, including the Coast Guard.

“I had the privilege to be a part of this opportunity to teach students not only military service as leaders but to set up their career paths,” Borden said.

In addition, Borden was the Commanding Officer to the Navy ROTC unit program at ASU when it began in 2010 to help students attain requisite degrees for the military.

At the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, Borden aims to advocate for, guide and encourage students with making career decisions and connecting them with professionals in the industry and engage in community service.

“Our military today is an all-volunteer force, so the type of person who chooses the military has a personal value to service people over themselves," Borden said. "When you get out of the service and go to school, some veterans need to be involved in clubs and community service to help them feel they are still servicing others while also taking care of themselves.”

Borden said the biggest challenge for veteran students after they have served their country and taken commands and directions is to make decisions on their own.

“Veteran students are transitioning out of an environment that is structured with a clear mission, and there is not as much flexibility once they choose their position,” Borden said. “However, life outside the military has more freedom of choice and autonomy, which can be difficult for veteran students to transition in a culture where they decide what they want to do."

Frenard Ganda is a junior majoring in innovation in society. Ganda, 46, was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya where he first encountered military servicemen and women who inspired him to be like them someday.

“Dentists in the Navy used to come (to Nairobi) in big air-craft carriers, and it was glorious," Ganda said. "It was like a dream.”

In 1993, Ganda became a U.S. citizen when he was 21-years-old and enrolled in Central State University with a goal to serve his country. 

“I wanted to seek opportunities to better my life and expand my horizons," Ganda said. "Coming here from Kenya, one of the best things I could do in return is to say thank you to this great nation that was a dream of mine to come to. The best way for me to say thank you is to serve and put my life on the line.” 

After having his first daughter in 1996, tuition became difficult to pay for, and he joined the Navy as a dental technician for 8.5 years to pay for college. During his time in the Navy, Ganda traveled and lived in over 10 countries across the world.

In 2005, after leaving the military, he attended New York Film Academy for filmmaking to learn how to write and tell stories. Now, Ganda is at ASU and plans to write a book someday. 

Keegan Crosby, military and veteran admission and enrollment specialist at the Tillman Center, served as a paratrooper in Airborne Infantry. 

“Both of my grandparents were in World War II," Crosby said. "My grandpa landed on D-Day and was lucky enough to live to tell the stories (that) I grew up listening to on his take on the importance of military service in the broader scheme of life.” 

After receiving his bachelor’s degree while on active duty, Crosby is currently a graduate student pursuing his master’s in applied leadership and management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which used to be a U.S. army-air training base

Crosby feels a sense of mission and purpose working in the Pat Tillman Veteran Center.

“Everyone who is working here is working towards the same thing: how we can assist the veteran transition,” Crosby said. “We all understand the challenges but overall are focused on how we can help veterans achieve post-service goals.”

Johnny Gutierrez, a senior majoring in business sustainability, served in the Marine Corps for five years. Gutierrez joined the Marines as infantry and a scout sniper at the age of 18. 

Between 2010 and 2011, Gutierrez was deployed to Sangin Valley, Afghanistan and fought in the Battle of Sangin. He was then deployed again on the Navy ship around the Pacific and Arabian Peninsula.

After backpacking in Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam, now Gutierrez is dedicated to training for the Run, Walk and Roll Marathon while finishing his last year at ASU.

“I grew a lot of appreciation for decision-making while being in the Marines, and now I want to decide where to go with my future,” Gutierrez said.

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