“When you’re on campus, drop by,” says Sgt. Steven Pina, the center’s new interim assistant director.
It’s not easy for vets to acclimate to campus life, says Sgt. Steven Pina.
“I remember being very much aware of the large age gap between me and most of the student body,” he says. “I wanted, and needed, to connect with other vets on campus and find community.”
Pina had enlisted in the Army at age 19 when his peers were just starting college. He transitioned out at 26 and immediately enrolled at RIC, where he earned his B.S.W. in 2022 and his M.S.W. in 2023.
While earning his bachelor’s degree, he looked for ways to connect with other military-affiliated students. He decided to revive the Student Veterans Organization, which had been defunct for years, becoming its president.
He also took on a work-study job at the Military Resource Center, creating and leading events.
This year, after graduating with his master’s degree, Pina was made interim assistant director of the center. One of his major goals, he says, will be to increase the center’s presence on campus.
“A lot of students don’t know we’re here,” he says. “Those vets who do know think we only help with educational benefits. But we have so much more to offer. We provide on- and off-campus resources and events that help them acclimate and successfully complete college.” Those events include:
- Once-a-month community luncheons for members of the Student Veterans Organization and the Military Resource Center.
- Wellness Wednesdays to help vets deal with stress through meditation and grounding exercises.
- Bi-weekly hikes, one of the most popular events.
Ultimately, the Military Resource Center is a place to unplug and be with people with similar life experiences.
“We’re a comfort zone,” Pina says. “Some vets come to the center because they don’t have anywhere else to go outside of class. They do their homework here or just sit around and chat. You’ll always find a conversation going on about active duty or where they were stationed. Others come in, sit and say nothing. They just want to be with other vets. Some wind up working here.”
The center’s staff is made up of 14 student veterans. Twelve are work-study students, and nine of the 12 have disabilities, including Pina.
“I was airborne and sustained spinal and knee injuries from jumping out of planes. Good times,” he says, yet he wouldn’t trade his military experience for the world.
“The military gave me friends for life,” he says. “There’s a camaraderie we share that you’ll never experience as a civilian. It also gave me resilience. I know no matter what tough spot I’m in, there’s always options.”
Pina urges students to drop by the center and make themselves at home. The Military Resource Center is located on the first floor of the Student Union.