Student veterans, like Adrian Marquez ’19, excel at UCI and beyond with the help of scholarships, guaranteed on-campus housing, special training and more. Photo: Victoria Andrea Matthews   

Serving Those Who Served

Ricardo Correa walked onto the UCI campus the first day of classes for one reason: to withdraw from school. The Army Reservist had been called to duty in Afghanistan, where he would spend the next nine months searching for and clearing roadside bombs.

When he returned to California in 2015, the transition was tough. “I almost quit school. I almost didn’t come back,” Correa says.

UCI’s Veteran Services Center helped with everything from filling out paperwork to connecting Correa with a social support network. Once he adjusted to life as an analytical chemistry major, he even secured a research position with the world-renowned UCI chemist Donald Blake, collecting air samples for National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration research.

Ricardo Correa ’17, middle left, stands with Elliott Kornhauser, far left, the benefactor of his scholarship.

Yet as a reservist, Correa only qualified for a 60 percent educational scholarship under the GI Bill, which meant he needed to take out student loans. The Veteran Services Center was able to help out there, too, granting him scholarships.

Since 2012, the Veteran Services Center has awarded more than $400,000 in scholarships, thanks to funding from individual philanthropists like Tom T. Tierney and professor emeritus Elliott Kornhauser, as well as funders like the Orange County Community Foundation and the Nicholas Endowment and the Louise Merage Family Foundation

“I couldn’t have finished school without those scholarships, to be honest,” says Correa, who graduated in 2017. “I couldn’t have even paid rent over the summer.”

UCI’s efforts to recognize and address the unique needs of U.S. servicemen and women have drawn national accolades. In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked UCI 13th best college for veterans, and the summer 2018 issue of U.S. Veterans Magazine named the campus a “top veteran-friendly school.”

Beyond mission-critical scholarship support, UCI offers a host of accommodations to help veterans transition smoothly and succeed. UCI guarantees on-campus housing for veterans, offers flexible policies when students are deployed on short notice, and provides special training to help faculty and staff address the unique needs of veterans, including addressing mental health.

“We really try to look at it holistically,” says Adelí Durón, director of the Veteran Services Center. “Acknowledging that veterans are usually older than traditional undergraduates, often have families to support, and may have reason to resist seeking help with some issues, we want to help serve their unique needs.”

That includes setting veterans up for success upon graduation by facilitating career fairs and sending them to conferences. Earlier this year, the center funded a trip to the Student Veterans Association of America National Conference.

Adrian Marquez ’19 nabbed a job interview at the conference, which he parlayed into an offer for full-time employment. In his dream job at Raytheon, he will leverage his years of experience working with Apache helicopters in the Marines, and his bachelor’s in materials science engineering.

Marquez’s trip and Correa’s scholarships proved life-changing, yet they could not have happened without gifts and grants from the community.

“This is our success we’re talking about as veterans,” says Marquez. “It’s good to feel that there are people there who are going to help you find that success.”

Adrian Marquez ’19 speaks at the Memorial Day Flag Ceremony held on campus. Photo: Sam Chen

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