The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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At ease: Veterans benefit from CSUN coordinator

The door to Phyllis Gilson’s office is always open. If someone has a question, even if it’s not about her department, Gilson will do whatever it takes to find the answer, or at least point out the best direction.

“I deal with a lot of walk in students, answer a lot of phone calls, resolve any problems that come up,” Gilson said.

For the last 35 years, Gilson has been working with students in Admissions and Records. About 10 years ago, she became the Veterans Services Coordinator for CSUN.

“The position happened to open up, and I got appointed to do it,” Gilson said. She now divides her time between the two departments.

Over the years, she’s seen changes in the university environment.

“With time, there’s always change. Change in the people, change in the attitude towards the military. People are more aware now than they were before 9/11,” Gilson said.

Sept. 11, 2001 brought changes to her office as well. Suddenly, Gilson had to do something she’d never encountered before: getting students out of class rather than in.

“We started pulling guys out and back into service in 2001, after 9/11.”

Gilson shared the story of one reservist who was called back into service two weeks before she was set to graduate.

“She was in tears,” Gilson said. Gilson worked with the girl and her unit, and they were able to have her deployment pushed back until after the ceremony.

“We withdraw them from their classes, and set them up so that they can come back. We’ll try to work with the professors? Each one is handled really individually.”

Gilson’s main job as Veterans Services Coordinator is to certify students that are entitled to veterans’ benefits.

“I certify that they are enrolled in school, that what they’re taking is applicable to their degree,” Gilson said. In order to receive their benefits, veterans must be taking 12 units towards their degree each semester. Beyond those required units, they can take whatever classes they wish.

“As long as their information is correct, they’re in good shape,” she said. The verification is shared with the federal government via the Internet.

Veterans who wish to claim their benefits visit her office at the beginning of each semester and fill out a form in order to be certified. Gilson must verify that they stay enrolled and in the appropriate classes, so she checks up on them every 21 days through the campus Web portal. This semester, she’s working with about 300 students.

“The folks we see, they (are) here because they want to go to school, they’re directed. They’re good kids,” Gilson said.

“I think a lot of that has to do with their being a bit older. They’re coming to school to get their education and go on with their lives,” she said.

“They’re not feeling their way through; they’re determined about what they’re doing.”

“She’s been amazing,” Zachary Pelton said. Pelton is a transfer student who served four years in the Air Force, and is majoring in language and cultural studies.

“She’s a step away from getting chocolates and flowers,” he added.

Pelton said Gilson helped him work out issues with his residency, since he’d lived in many different states and abroad while in the Air Force.

“It affects financial aid. It was a big deal for me, $15,000 big,” Pelton said.

“She gave me all the contact information I needed for the VA, helped with the whole process. All of the little details that you can’t quite put your finger on, but if someone wasn’t there to help you you’d know it. She’s my favorite faculty member,” Pelton said.

“She takes care of all the returning soldiers and National Guard,” said Capt. Brian Johns, assistant professor of military science.

Johns heads the ROTC, and says that though his office isn’t directly connected to Gilson’s, she’s been a great help and a friend.

“She really cares about people in the military. She gives them the knowledge about how to deal with college,” Johns said.

“They’ve done so much for us, we’ll do what we can to advance their education and let them advance with their life,” Gilson said.

“When I have problems, she usually has answers for me. She is always so happy and animated about it. I’d even go so far as to say she bends over backwards,” Johns said.

“She helps my students by really looking at their transcripts,” he added. ROTC students must get a bachelor’s degree in an approved program in order to become and officer.

“We invite her to all of our commission ceremonies.”

“Our cadre calls her ‘the Gem of CSUN.’ Without her, I would not have survived here. She makes things happen. I don’t know how to express how much we appreciate her.”

Johns said that a few months after he came to CSUN, he walked over to Gilson’s office to introduce himself, and offer his card should any of Gilson’s veterans wish to join the ROTC.

“I’ve never seen her in a bad mood, ever. She just seems like the happiest person. I love her to death,” Johns said.

During her time at CSUN, Gilson has earned three degrees. She has two bachelor’s, one in political science and one in urban studies. She also earned her master’s in educational leadership.

Veterans and regular students are both welcome to visit Gilson’s office with any questions. They will likely all be greeted by a smiling Gilson and her Uncle Sam figurine.

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