By Becky St. Clair
Robert Quiroz, a health communications major at Pacific Union College, has been in the California Army National Guard since 2011. In 2014, before he ever deployed, Quiroz sat in his house in Stockton, California, listening to gunshots outside his house, thinking, There has to be a better way.
He had been reading Fearless, by Eric Blehm, the biography of Adam Brown, a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan. The book mentions a young man from Angwin, California, which caught Quiroz’s eye. He knew PUC was there and was struck by the idea of completing a college degree. So, once he returned from military training, he and his wife left Stockton for Angwin and Quiroz enrolled in PUC’s health communications program.
Quiroz grew up Adventist. His mom and grandmother were Adventist, as well as his dad, whose father was an Adventist pastor in Colombia.
“My life is deeply rooted in the Adventist Church,” he says. “A lot of my faith comes from those roots.”
This faith and the value he places on them, has led to a deep appreciation for the Adventist school system.
“Adventist education has so much to offer, and getting that education here in Angwin has added benefits,” he says. “It’s quiet here in Angwin, and rent assistance is available for student veterans. They can bring their families here. Everyone’s nice, and everyone smiles. It’s a real blessing to be here.”
Another part of life at PUC that has been helpful to Quiroz and his fellow veterans is the Veterans Club. Fiona Bullock, a former professor in the department of social work at PUC, started the club in 2015 and convinced her department to give the club a room in their building to meet in and call their own. Quiroz worked alongside another PUC student, an Air Force veteran, to make it a welcoming gathering space.
The room now has painted walls, banners and flags from the various branches of the U.S. military, a large map for club members to mark their homes and deployment locations, couches, snacks, a brand new television, and even a few medals on the wall. The television was donated by Kellie Lind, vice president of alumni and advancement, and her two sisters, Kim and Kendall, in honor of their father, Rob, a veteran of the U.S. Army.
“We’re a small group, but we need each other, and we appreciate each other,” Quiroz says. “Our mission is to really help these transitioning veterans spiritually, mentally, and academically while they strive to achieve their academic goals, and do that while providing a familiar community of camaraderie.”
The club regularly hosts events such as dinners, group event attendance, and other social opportunities to gather and get to know and support each other.
Many veterans leave the military with some sort of disability, and some are still working through those disabilities when they arrive at PUC. This is where the support services of the team at the Teaching & Learning Center (TLC) come in.
“We don’t just serve veterans, but they are definitely an important group we work with,” says Nancy Jacobo, director of the TLC, which houses disabilities services for students, as well as tutoring, test preparation, and other academic services for all students. “Veterans are a unique group.”
Jacobo is one of several staff members who work tirelessly to ensure students get the assistance they need while attending PUC. They organize accommodations for physical, mental, and learning disabilities, help student veterans manage and process their government education benefits, offer one-on-one as well as group tutoring sessions for various subjects and courses, and more.
“They shouldn’t fight their battles alone,” Jacobo says. “We want things to be as easy as possible for veterans who are dealing with trauma, anxiety, PTSD, or physical challenges due to their service to our country. They shouldn’t have to worry about school, too.”
One of the greatest things about PUC, though, Quiroz admits, is where he’s able to live.
“Student family housing is a huge benefit here,” he says. “It’s very affordable, and allows student veterans to live in relatively private homes and still be able to afford to pay their bills, have kids, and own small pets. It almost feels like you’re living a normal adult life. It’s one of the greatest things about this place.”
Quiroz maintains God led him to PUC.
“I’m grateful to be where I am,” he says. “PUC opened its doors wide and invited me to find peace here. I have, and I want to help make that a reality for others as well.”