Peer Mentors Help Student Veterans Succeed at Kean
When Edgar Arauz entered Kean University in 2016 after serving four years with the U.S. Marines, he figured he would get through school without needing anyone’s help.
Then he found himself wanting to connect with other students on campus, and discovered the Kean Veterans Resource Center.
“At first, I would just go to the commuter lounge and sit at a table. There was no interaction,” said Arauz, 31, a senior environmental science major. “Here, I found a small close-knit group of people. There were one or two veterans who took on a big brother role and helped guide me.”
Arauz, who graduates in December, now works at the Resource Center as a peer mentor supporting other student veterans.
The Kean Veterans Resource Center and the Center for Veteran Student Success are located in the Center for Academic Success (CAS) on the first and second floors. Together, they offer support to student veterans that ranges from academic counseling to a quiet place to rest between classes.
“Kean recognizes the service that student veterans have bravely given to our nation and is dedicated to providing outstanding programs, like peer mentorship, to support them as they transition to life as civilians and college students,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. “It’s our way of thanking our veterans and offering them our continued support.”
Kean has been recognized as a Gold Top 10 Military Friendly School three years in a row by the Military Friendly School survey. The University also received a $447,971 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand its services for student veterans. There are 258 student veterans at Kean.
Arauz has thrived at Kean through his work as a peer mentor. He completed a prestigious internship in sustainability last summer with PSEG and hopes to become a park ranger.
“Serving as a mentor is like a responsibility. I feel if I can guide people to do the right thing, I’m happy to do it,” the Rahway resident said. “The veterans who came before me passed the torch to me.”
Vito Zajda, director of Veteran Student Services at Kean and a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, said going from veteran to student is not easy. Peer mentors such as Arauz play an important role, he said, as student veterans navigate challenges such as figuring out veterans’ benefits, seeking academic counseling, and just wanting to meet other students.
“Edgar is always there when we need him. He’s an amazing peer mentor,” Zajda said. “He puts together activities in the resource center, and he takes pride in what he does. He shows true leadership.”
Kean will mark Veteran’s Day on Thursday, November 11 with a celebration at Watchung Reservation from 12-4 p.m. The event will feature outdoor activities, a tour of Watchung Stables, information sessions with veterans groups and Kean departments, and refreshments.