Campus Program Helps Veterans Excel at Cal Poly Humboldt

Student veterans pose at a tabling event
Cal Poly Humboldt’s Veterans Enrollment & Transition Services (VETS) helps student veterans transition to college and civilian life.
Cal Poly Humboldt’s Veterans Enrollment & Transition Services (VETS) program serves hundreds of students each semester, fostering engagement, leadership, and connection between peers and the larger community.

“Student Veterans who are more engaged with their campus Veterans Program tend to be more successful in their post-military transition and journey,” says Cliff LaMastus, VETS program coordinator. “That engagement leads to things like learning how to recognize the value behind their military experience, how they can be leaders in their classrooms and communities, how to get connected with other resources and benefits that will aid them through the rest of their lives, workshops, new skill sets, new opportunities, and learning to recognize new and different belief sets and values.”

The program currently serves 578 students, including Veterans, active duty military, reserve component personnel, and their families. Services include advising, community-building, and coordination of military and Veteran-specific resources such as GI Bill support, CalVet Fee waivers, and more. 

There's a lot more that goes on in the program than most on campus realize, says LaMastus. “Students visit our office for obvious things like getting their education benefits squared away, talking about their financial aid, etc. But they also come here for each other, the camaraderie, and the connection to their peers. They mentor each other, they form study groups, they learn about benefits from each other. They get to connect with other Vets with similar experiences, hardships, and struggles with the post-military transition process and they get to realize that they're not alone in those struggles.”

Blong Vue is a student Veteran who had to balance taking care of elderly relatives, working, and going to school. “The role of the VETS program and my educational counselors were a large contributing factor to my success,” says Vue. He also credits the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) with helping him on his academic path. 

“I’m very thankful that Cal Poly Humboldt has some of the most incredible and caring staff because they understand when students who may excel may need a break, a student with a different cultural background who experiences tough times, or a student who just needs to change a career path that fits their lifestyle."

Involvement in such resources contributes to the success of student Veterans, active-duty service members, or reserve members, who make up approximately 6% of undergraduates in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education. These students have a 72% success rate—higher than many of their civilian peers, reports Student Veterans of America, an advocacy group for Veterans in their education. 

Such campus resources have helped earn Cal Poly Humboldt Recognition as a top veteran-friendly school in the West in U.S. News’ 2024 rankings.

VETS services are also available to the children and spouses of Veterans. 

“Military dependents (children and spouses) get to experience the same, connecting with other family members, talking about their experiences, and learning about the military experience as a whole, which they may not have heard much of from their own Veteran for various reasons,” LaMastus says. “We're trying to build a community here, facilitate a true sense of belonging, and help them navigate towards their new purpose and direction, post-military, to foster their growth and success.”

On the last Friday of each month, VETS hosts a Friday Night Fun event with pizza and snacks. The event focuses on “building camaraderie and connection with one another, to help fill in some of those gaps we tend to miss from our time in service,” says LaMastus. 

VETS’ Outdoor Program hosts outdoor-based activities including runs, hikes, camping trips, and other outdoor adventures. The program has a partnership with Center Activities and the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center that allows VETS students to rent gear for free. 

VETS is hosting a series of events for all members of the campus community at its Lower Library location the week of Veteran’s day, starting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7, with coffee and donuts, followed by a Veterans Day lunch on Wednesday from 11-2 p.m. On Thursday, Veterans for Peace will host a presentation about the history of Veterans Day from 12:30-1:30 p.m. 

The University is partnering with College of the Redwoods (CR), College Corps, Humboldt IPA, and VA Whole Health for a series of events from Nov. 9-14 that honor Veterans and celebrate creative arts. The events are free and open to the public. 

The series kicks off at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9 at Cal Poly Humboldt’s ceramics lab with a demonstration from ceramic artist and veteran Ehren Tool. Later, the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences will present a dinner and discussion with a series of panelists at the Arcata Veterans Memorial Building. 

On Saturday, Nov. 11 is the third annual Veterans Day at McKay event, featuring a 5K and 10K walk/run in the McKay Community Forest at 10 a.m., followed by the Community Connections fair hosted at the Humboldt Cider Company at Redwoods Acres. There will be demonstrations by Veteran artists, live music, pickleball, and a free barbeque. Attendees can decorate their own clay cups—Vets are encouraged to bring medals and memorabilia to use as stamps on their cups. 

On Monday, Nov. 13 starting at 5:30, the College of the Redwoods  Art Department will host guest artist Jessica Putnam Phillips (USAF) in the new Creative Arts Complex room 106. Putnam Phillips will continue her demonstration on Tuesday, Nov. 14 from 8:15 a.m.-2:45 p.m. 

In addition to these events, the VETS Center also looks forward to hosting food and clothing drives, and camping and backpacking trips this spring.  

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