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Vets from Different Generations Find an Academic Home at City Tech

Garzon (left) and Correa

For Cesia Garzon, Victor Correa and 225 of their fellow service veterans, City Tech is providing the supportive environment they need to move ahead in their lives.

“My military service increased my desire to attend college to pursue a career,” says 25-year-old Garzon, who served between 2002 and 2006 as a supply clerk in Kuwait and Iraq, and just began life as a college student this semester.

Garzon is taking advantage of the increased opportunities provided by the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, which gives her tuition and a monthly allowance for such items as rent, electricity and books. She’ll also benefit from City Tech’s Veterans Support Services Office (VSSO) because, she says, “I know that through that office I can get referrals to other available services for veterans.”

The enhanced services City Tech is providing for its students who are vets mirrors what is happening throughout CUNY. The University recently was selected one of America's Top 20 Military-Friendly Colleges and Universities, out of 2,000 institutions, by Military Advanced Education.

After her tours of duty, Garzon was determined to attend college and handled the challenge of time-consuming official paperwork while holding a job taking inventory at Home Depot. She is considering a career in merchandising.

She learned about the Veterans Program at a CUNY Open House. “I chose City Tech because of the great degree programs they offer. I would advise veterans thinking of college to pursue their education, because it is a path to success.”

City Tech’s VSSO is headed by native New Yorker and former teacher Brian Laguardia, coordinator of veterans support services. An Army infantry veteran (Korea and Washington, DC, 1998-2000) who later served in Iraq in 2006-2007, Laguardia is also on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, earning a master’s degree at New York University's Center for Global Affairs, focusing on human rights and humanitarian assistance. He occasionally acts as a spokesperson for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

The VSSO helps vets navigate sources of aid including the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Federal Work-Study Program (FWSP), NYS Veterans Tuition Awards, VA Work-Study Programs and the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, among others. Says Laguardia, “Few colleges in the metro area have a person on staff dealing with veteran issues on a walk-in basis, like City Tech has.”

“We are making strides in streamlining services for our veterans,” says Dr. Marcela Armoza, vice president of enrollment and student affairs. “Brian brings such a rich background to his work here. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for these students.”

Vets also can get help with career planning, academic issues, mental health referrals and other types of support through Paul Schwartz, a City Tech counselor experienced in working with veterans who are students. In addition, Schwartz is the advisor to the Student Veterans Club and contributed a chapter on his work with veterans titled “Positive" to the forthcoming book, Voices from the Field: Defining Moments in Counselor and Therapist Development (Routledge).

“I come from a family of veterans — father, uncles, cousins,” says Schwartz. “And for ten years I was a social work coordinator and counselor at the VA New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus, then called the Brooklyn VA Medical Center, where I developed a deep appreciation for service personnel.”

The team of City Tech administrators who work directly with students who are veterans, in addition to LaGuardia and Schwartz, includes Cynthia Binks (counseling), Monique Blake (registrar’s office), Manual Sanchez (financial aid), Tomas Ramos (academic learning center) and Vanessa Villanueva (admissions).

Different generations of veterans attend City Tech. In addition to recent veterans like Garzon, students include Correa, a 56-year-old grandfather who served three years in the 1970s as an Army cook and baker. In Germany, he cooked for 600 soldiers on the post and out in the field.

In fall 2009, Correa entered City Tech to study hospitality management. “I first started college in 1979,” he explains, “but juggling school, research, a job at the World Trade Center and screaming kids meant getting to sleep at one in the morning and up at five to get to work at seven.” After the Army, Correa did earn an associate degree from the New York Restaurant School (now the Art Institute), doing an externship at the Food Network and interning and volunteering with City Tech alum and celebrity chef Michael Lomonaco (’84) before becoming a member of the culinary staff at Gracie Mansion from 2000 to 2003.

“After graduation, I was offered a job at Windows on the World in the pastry operation and turned it down to work at Gracie Mansion,” he recalls. “I could have perished on 9-11. Instead, I was sending food to the rescue workers at Ground Zero.”

Correa returned to City Tech as a baccalaureate student because, he says, “Most cooking schools don’t have a hospitality program, and I want to expand to other things. At my age, I want to do more than stand in front of an oven!” As a non-combat veteran, he is ineligible for certain government support, but says, “Brian Laguardia is helping me look for jobs. My BA will help me get a better job when I graduate in 2011. Teaching is an option, rather than being in the hustle and bustle of a restaurant.”

Correa finds college rewarding and and also encourages other older veterans to attend. “It’s never too late; you can always start again. It’s exciting; it refreshes your mind, your brain wakes up. It’s not easy, but I’m having a great time.”

Though constantly evolving technology is a challenge for him, his daughters are teaching him to text. And, Correa affirms, “City Tech has good teachers who can guide you and lead you into a better future. That’s why I’m here!”


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