by Teresa M. Araque

Leticia Pizarro Padilla, manager, veterans services at Hodges University, assists a Hodges student veteran in the Dr. Peter Thomas veterans services
center. The Naples and Fort Myers campuses each have a center designed specifically to assist military veterans make that transition from military to civilian to academic life. Hodges University, a Yellow Ribbon Program participant and military friendly school, also offers veteran students tuition discounts. Photo courtesy Hodges University.

Making the transition from military life, to civilian life, and then academic life, poses its own challenges for veteran students.

At Hodges University, there is the Dr. Peter Thomas Veterans Services Center (VSC) on the Naples and Fort Myers campuses. It’s a place for them to relax, to socialize with fellowstudent veterans, and a one-stop place to learn about additional resources for them and their families.

The center was named for Peter Thomas, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and fought in five European campaigns. His awards include five battle stars, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He and his wife, Stella, settled in Naples in 1966 and he continued his passion for supporting veterans, and an illustrious career as an award-winning narrator.

“The Veteran Services has been paramount to me, as I was able to discuss questions relating to the GI Bill benefits that I am using to attend Hodges,” said Phuc “Sean” Tran, US Army, Operation Enduring Freedom.

“They were very helpful in providing me guidance and advice as a new student and even now as an about to be graduate in the making.”

Tran will graduate with his Bachelor’s in cyber security and computer forensics in 2019. Hodges University has been named among the Military Times’ BEST colleges for 2018, and is designated as a military friendly school.

“There truly are a lot of adjustments that you make once you leave military service and return to civilian life,” said Leticia Pizarro Padilla, manager, Veterans Services at Hodges University, and who was a staff sergeant in the New York State Army Guard.

“We work with our veteran students to answer their education questions, and we can refer them to community resources. Throughout the year we also have events on campus and in the community, and now we have designated parking on both campuses to thank and honor our veteran students for their service.”

In fact, Hodges University is hosting a Veterans Resource Fair and Family Fun Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 17 on the Naples campus. The event, sponsored by Wounded Warriors of Collier County, is free and open to the public. Local Collier County employers and organizations will be available to provide information.

Additionally, families can enjoy a variety of fun activities, including bounce houses, therapy horses, armored vehicle displays and food vendors.

Hodges University also offers veteran students tuition discounts and participates in The Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows qualifying veteran students who reached the top of the Veteran Administration’s cap of tuition and fees, to receive up to $6,000 in additional tuition and fees assistance for the academic year.

“Our mission is to provide a place where we support our military veterans, service members and their families so they can reach their academic and career goals,” said Pizarro Padilla.

“The VSC is a taste of that military camaraderie that all of us veterans came to know and love without realizing how definitively special this culture was, and how much it could be missed in the hustle and bustle of the civilian world,” said Jessica Dang, US Army, studying to earn her MBA.

“Supporting veterans shows the community that Hodges cares about those who serve and protect our great nation, and that Hodges is now doing its part to serve veterans and the community by having a military-friendly environment in which military personnel, veterans, their children and spouses can be supported in their transition to their new roles in civilian society.”

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