GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When Angel Cordero completed his service in the U.S. Air Force and began looking for a college, he put an emphasis on schools that showed a commitment to veterans. That is how he ended up at Stockton University, the 27-year-old Woodbridge native said.
On Tuesday, Cordero helped Stockton continue that commitment with the opening of a new veterans resource center. The center, which includes office space for Stockton’s Office of Military and Veterans Services and an updated veterans lounge, creates a centralized resource for the more than 400 students who are also veterans, service members and military family members.
“This speaks volumes as to what the institution is doing right,” said Cordero, president of the Student Veterans Organization.
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According to Jason Babin, director of Stockton’s Office of Military and Veterans Services, the new center creates a continuity in services that didn’t exist previously, as Babin’s office was previously located in a different wing than the veterans lounge. He said it also doubles the size of the previous office and lounge.
The resource center is a valuable tool for qualifying students, connecting them to the services they need most both inside and outside the college. Military-affiliated students at Stockton have access to automatic acceptance, waived application fees, no GPA requirements, priority orientation and registration dates, military-affiliated housing, dedicated financial aid officers and academic advisers, and a variety of military-and veteran-focused events throughout the year, according to the university’s website.
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“Part of the fear is students on campus sometimes don’t know where to go,” Babin said, whether it’s for help with financial, academic, mental or housing issues.
The office becomes a bridge for those students, following the military-style support systems that don’t necessarily exist in the civilian world, he said.
Cordero, who is studying political science, said the lounge gives him a place to relax, study and connect with others who have shared experiences.
Tom O’Donnell, former veterans services director at Stockton, recalled when former college President Herman Saatkamp suggested creating the veterans lounge.
“I said, ‘Why?’ and he said the right thing: ‘Because it’s the right thing to do,’” O’Donnell said. “And that has been the motto here at Stockton since Day One.”
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O’Donnell said the lounge was the request of the service members at the school more than a decade ago and was the first of its kind in the state when it opened in 2010.
Since then, Stockton has been lauded for its services, ranking 24th in the nation last year among “Best for Vets” colleges by Military Times and designated a veteran-friendly college by the New Jersey Order of the Purple Heart.
Stockton President Harvey Kesselman noted Tuesday that Stockton has been welcoming military members since its opening in 1971 when it served Vietnam-era veterans.
O’Donnell said the model created by Stockton has been used all over the country and said he was stealing a phrase from Kesselman when he said, “Stockton University has always had veterans as part of its DNA.”