The active military and veteran community is familiar to Gabriela Iglesias Garcia, a Western Carolina University sophomore from Jacksonville, majoring in English. Garcia’s father is a service member, along with many others in her family.
With an extensive history of military involvement, Garcia knew she wanted to attend a university that has a deep respect for people who have served. She found out about WCU a few years ago through a family friend, who just so happens to be a WCU student, as well.
“She is also is a member of the Student Veterans Association, and she shared with me just how deeply Western cares about its active duty and veteran population, telling me about the Veterans Resource Center, and all the support offered through Military Student Services,” Garcia said. “This, paired with the kind and welcoming atmosphere I was greeted with during my first visit to Western, I knew it was the environment for me.”
One of Garcia’s favorite things about the Student Veterans Association is the sense of community the club offers for active duty and veteran students.
“No one can ever truly understand the military experience unless you’ve been in the military, and this can be very isolating. Just knowing others like yourself, and having that community, can make all the difference,” Garcia said.
She went on to describe how welcoming the club is to everyone, not just military-affiliated students. “Even if you’re not a veteran yourself, because the community is so strong, you’re still able to make meaningful connections. Like with my family friend who first introduced me to Western; I wouldn’t be at this school without a connection I made through the veteran community,” Garcia said.
In addition to being the communications chairperson for the Student Veterans Association, Garcia also works as a Chatty Cat engagement officer. “I like talking to people and getting to know them, and the program is a great way to make connections, especially right now when people aren’t able to visit others,” she said.
When asked about what the most rewarding part of her job has been so far, Garcia shared a story about a recent alumnus she spoke with on the phone, describing how the conversations themselves offer the most joy to those on both sides of the phone call.
“We talked for well over 30 minutes, and at the end of the phone call, he thanked me profusely for the call, simply saying, ‘I live alone; It’s been so long since I’ve talked to anyone like this. Thank you for talking to me.’ ”
She went on to describe how the advice Chatty Cats receive from alumni is invaluable to shaping a student’s time at WCU. “Hearing what worked well and what didn’t for alumni during their studies can genuinely change your outlook on things, and alter how you perform certain tasks for the better. It’s so cool to hear so many peoples’ stories and perspectives.”
Though the two bullet points on Garcia’s résumé may seem wildly different upon first glance, she said they actually go hand-in-hand. Garcia saw firsthand through her father’s experience how jarring and mentally taxing it can be for active duty and veteran individuals to acclimate back to civilian life after serving. Therefore, Garcia stressed the importance of having robust resources to support these individuals in their transition periods.
“Making sure areas of campus like the Counseling Center, the Center for Career and Professional Development, and even the University Center, where the Veterans Resource Center is housed, provide the support needed for veterans is important. Things like technology upgrades, facility enhancements, all these things play a role in providing resources to areas of campus that veterans most heavily rely on. My job in philanthropy, as a Chatty Cat, helps directly ensure this support.”
Whether it be through the Student Veterans Association, the Chatty Cat engagement officer program, or another area, Garcia hopes her fellow students take the time to truly appreciate the opportunities and resources WCU offers its students. “I love WCU because of the sense of community it gives everyone. Everyone is able to find a place here at Western, wherever that place may be.”
Learn more about WCU's newly launched Military and Veterans Alumni Society
Current students interested in becoming a Chatty Cat engagement officer can learn more at chattycats.wcu.edu and can apply today.
Consider supporting military and veteran students by making a gift during I Love WCU month.