Making a difference in one veteran’s life while attending the University of Nevada, Reno changed the course of Vincent Rivera’s career.
At the time, Rivera was studying information systems and was working toward helping businesses make informed decisions. Instead, the United States Marine Corps veteran wanted to help fellow veterans make more informed decisions in their lives and education.
Now, several years later, Rivera is doing what makes him happy, helping veterans as the Veterans Resource coordinator at Western Nevada College.
“I was a student worker in the Veterans Service Office at UNR and I was doing pre-certifications, but then I went into mentoring. That is when I realized that my degree in information systems was not where I wanted to be and it was in higher ed, assisting student veterans,” Rivera said. “It was the first time when a student vet came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, if it wasn’t for you, I might have left.’ At the time I was also thinking about leaving school, until I found the vet community on campus, and that feeling made me realize that this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Rivera is enjoying the transition from one Nevada System of Higher Education institution to another and the larger role he is playing in veterans’ lives.
“So far, it’s been an amazing time seeing the community college side and meeting these students,” Rivera said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge; it’s more of an opportunity. I’ve been integrating myself into a culture that … every campus has students develop their own culture. My predecessors had such a strong impact that the upperclassmen have passed on a culture to the underclassmen. So, for me to come in and earn the trust and to integrate myself into a new culture and be accepted as I have been, it can seem daunting but at same time it’s been extremely fulfilling.”
Rivera indicated that the work study students in the VRC have made his transition to WNC smoother.
“I would love to take all the credit, but if it wasn’t for our work study students — who are not experts but are very well versed in every benefit there is — we wouldn’t be as successful,” Rivera said. “If someone comes to the Veterans Resource Center, they are going to know that if I’m not there, the work studies are there; if they have questions about their GI Bill, somebody is going to be there to answer it. We do not work for Department of Internal Affairs, but every single work study student and myself have used them. The great part is (visitors) are not getting a theory-based opinion but are getting advice from someone who has been there.”
He and his staff at the VRC are also learning ways to further help veterans who use them as a resource.
“There are benefits out there that I’m still learning,” he said. “I’m finding out knew benefits all the time. I just learned that if you have served more than 24 months past 1980, you are eligible for VA Life Insurance. Our student vets are not only getting what they need for their education benefits but for benefits overall that will help them in their whole life.”
Rivera also is a role model to veterans on campus to maximize the educational opportunities through the GI Bill.
“I’m about to finish my last semester of my master’s program, and every semester has been paid,” Rivera said. “Forty-eight months is the maximum, but it depends on stars aligning. Those are the type of things our resource center can help you with. Someone is going to come in and say I’m only going to get this much, but hold on a minute, if you do your due diligence and do your research and come to us, there are ways to make sure you get more bang out of the buck than what is the standard narrative out there.”
Rivera said that he looks forward to meeting veterans in the community in person to help them with their educational goals and veteran benefits. His office is located with the Veterans Resource Center on the third floor of the Cedar Building. Phone him at 775-445-4275.