Veterans Resource Center hosts fourth annual Professional Development dinner

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Danielle Hale / Daily Sundial

Monteigne Staats Long, Coordinator of the Veterans Resource Center, speaks with Dr. Harold Hellenbrand, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, at the ribbon cutting ceremony on September 12, 2012. "This is a very special day," said Long. Photo credit: Danielle Hale / Daily Sundial

Kelli Jones

The Veterans Resource Center hosted its fourth annual Professional Development dinner on campus for student veterans last week as part of the Elevate program.

Elevate helps former service members transition into the workforce by offering opportunities to meet with senior-level professionals, which also gives student veterans a chance to hone their networking skills.

“At the VRC, we believe that there’s no true track for success,” said Mayra Plascencia, manager of the VRC. “But networking is vital, and that’s why we wanted to bring you here today.”

CSUN graduate Manny Lopez, who works as the policy director for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Public Safety, was the night’s keynote speaker. Lopez has served for four years in the Navy and dedicates his post-military life to helping veterans find jobs.

“I’m really proud to be here tonight because we have that shared history,” Lopez said. “Whatever your branch, whatever your experience is, we have that experience, and no one can take it away as sailors, as soldiers, as Marines. I think sometimes it’s easy to get lost in what’s on my business card, but I have to remember that I’m also a proud Matador, just like all of you here tonight, and an even prouder U.S. Navy veteran.”

During his speech, Lopez reflected on his military service before talking about the importance of building a professional network, and taking advantage of mentorship opportunities. He also credited his time at CSUN for helping him connect with his first mentor.

“It was here at CSUN that I actually had an opportunity to meet my first real mentor,” he said. “That’s why we are here tonight –– to talk about how you can expand your network, and how to find those mentorship opportunities.”

Lopez ended his speech by opening the floor to questions, giving veterans a chance to talk about different issues the military community is facing. The Q&A session was followed by a dinner, panel discussion and roundtable conversations with mentors inside the Grand Salon at the University Student Union.

“Whether you are graduating or just starting off, I want to cite a quote by President JFK,” Lopez said. “‘I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: “I served in the United States Navy.”‘”

“But I want to change that last phrase for all of us tonight and just say that ‘I served in the United State Armed Forces,’ because that’s who we are here, right?” he concluded. “We are here, representing all of the different branches.”

A representative from the VRC said that there are around 700 military veterans enrolled at CSUN every semester, but only 36 had registered for the event. Veterans who wish to benefit from services offered through the Elevate program can visit the VRC on campus or online to learn more.

“We received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from both student veterans and professionals last year,” stated a press release ahead of the event. “Students walked away with internship opportunities, networking connections, mentors and feeling more prepared to enter the workforce.”