Ten years after its grand opening, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center has assisted over 10,500 veterans in earning degrees at ASU. The center provides veterans with the necessary resources needed to help them prepare for life back home after service.
Staff helps these student veterans stay on top of deadlines and tasks for enrollment, scholarships and finances.
Erik Villegas, a student worker at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center and senior public service and public policy major, had a hard decision to make while on the verge of reenlistment in 2019. Grappling with whether he should reenlist or go to college, Villegas reached out to the Pat Tillman Veterans Center at ASU for guidance.
"I had a million and a half questions when enrolling in university. The center was always on top of getting back to me with answers for my questions. They made the process as easy and smooth as they could, which was helpful," Villegas said.
In 2019, Villegas' time at Marine Corps Iwakuni Air Station in Japan, where he served as an aircraft technician, was coming to an end. According to Villegas, toward the end of a Marine's first enlistment, they are placed in a transitioning program in case they decide not to reenlist. In these classes, the Marine learns how to get a job and transition back to life in America, he said.
Villegas learned about the basic benefits, such as the GI Bill of Rights, which come along with serving in the military. At the time of his transitioning program, he had applied for reenlistment, but he later decided to also apply to ASU.
"It took a long time for my Arizona State application to come back," Villegas said. "I applied during the middle of COVID, and I was overseas. It took like four or five weeks for me to get accepted. From there I just went out on a limb and I denied reenlistment. I don't regret my decision."
In addition to admissions assistance, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center is focused on helping enrolled student veterans maximize their benefits. Whether those benefits are from the GI Bill of Rights or other scholarships, the center is available for veterans to use.
With one location on each ASU campus and one in the Sun Devil Stadium, the center continues to emphasize its mission.
"Pat Tillman's selfless service and academic achievements inspired the creation of the center in 2011. Today the center is staffed by veterans committed to help others make the difficult transition from military to college life," according to a press release from ASU.
Shawn Banzhaf, the assistant director of student success at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, focuses on finding the many hidden talents student veterans have.
"My main goal as the assistant director of student success at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center is to create a framework for students to come out of the military striving to be successful," Banzhaf said. "By having this mindset, the students we work with can begin to live and hopefully build partnerships with people who want to give back to the veteran community."
The Pat Tillman Veterans Center is essential to providing aid to student veterans on campus. By catering to the passions of an individual student, the center can adequately match them with possible job and degree opportunities best fit for them. The center employs individuals with similar backgrounds and experiences who are there to support current students based on their own education and understandings.
"There is a lot of uncertainty in finding a new career, but at the center, we definitely understand where they are coming from and try to help them to the best of our ability," said Christian Rauschenbach, director of innovation and compliance at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. "Education is one of the best ways someone can invest in themselves and explore what their next path in life may be."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center had to alter its delivery of instruction and guidance to ASU's student veteran population in order to continue to pursue its missions and goals.
Events usually held in large auditorium settings were transitioned to zoom meetings. Graduation ceremonies featured drive-thru events based around social distancing procedures set in place at the time, Rauschenbach said.
Banzhaf hopes he can continue to encourage students through the center by showing them they have more to give back to the community beyond military-derived opportunities. By focusing on a future filled with success, the center wants to help these students see their true potential in life after the service, Banzhaf said.
"It's been pretty special to be able to watch students figure out what some of their passions (are). I watch them end up pursuing something completely unexpected, and they love it," he said. "For me, that really ticks high on my happiness box, when I get to help students figure out what that something is."
Clarification: This story was updated on Sept. 9 at 10:45 a.m. to clarify the title of those serving in the Marines.
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Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times.