By Naidelly Coelho
What is your educational and professional background?
I'm actually a first-generation college student. I received my bachelor's degree in art at Northeastern University with a minor in Human Services. I went back to school in my late 40s and got my master’s in psychology with a specialization in military psychology so I could better serve my students. … I ended up working at Lesley College, which is now Lesley University. I worked in their marketing department. … I originally grew up in South Boston. But after having my first daughter, we moved to Florida, and I was there for 22 years. … My youngest just left for the military stationed in Japan. … I worked at Florida Institute of Technology in admissions and financial aid, and then from there, I went to another private college and worked in financial aid. And it was there, Keiser University, where my boss at the time wanted me to be a financial aid administrator. And my boss wanted me to be the school's certifying official from the VA. And the school certifying official processes all the VA education benefits for veterans who are coming in using their post 9/11 GI Bill. … Then I worked at a state school in Florida, at River State College, where I was the veterans benefits advisor. And I helped military members and veterans and their dependents from points of application through graduation - anything that they needed. I loved what I did. I was there for almost eight years. I wanted to move back home, but I wanted to continue working with veterans, doing what I was doing in Florida. … Then this job came up and I actually flew up after my Zoom interview. I had an in-person interview and I took a tour of the campus and I just fell in love with the campus and the environment. … They called me back and they offered me the position and here I am. … I’m just so happy to be back and I'm so grateful to be able to continue doing what I'm doing. Everyone that I've met here - students, faculty, staff - has been amazing. I really do feel at home.
How did you get into this type of work?
Throughout my life, I was always one to speak for the unheard - to stand up for the vulnerable. I really enjoy working with the elderly and I still do it in working with veterans. I volunteer with honor flight so I can still work with my older veterans from World War II.
What do you want the FSU community to know about your role?
I've only been here for two and a half weeks, so I'm still learning. … My main purpose for being here is the Veterans Center. … But some of the challenges are so when a service member leaves the military to come to school, it can be very challenging for them. Some veterans come and they do well. Some others struggle. They're coming from an environment that's telling them what to do, when to do, and how to do it. They're being discharged. They're losing their brothers and sisters in arms. These people that they've been with for years. And they're kind of thrown into the abyss trying to navigate admissions and financial aid. The VA paperwork is cumbersome. … There's age differences and their life experiences are different so they can feel out of place and some struggle to find a new purpose in life because their identity is taken away when they leave the military. My purpose in our office here is to help them navigate the VA bureaucracy of paperwork, helping them apply for the benefits, explain their benefits, and networking with veteran community partners … like veteran centers and veteran service offices. There's VFW, American Legion, and other nonprofit veteran groups. They get a full range of services both on and off campus to help them succeed, to stay in school, and ultimately graduate. The Veterans Center here provides a safe space. It's welcoming, where they can receive support, information, and that camaraderie. No one understands a veteran better than another veteran - right? … But the Veterans Center here helps them get that camaraderie back, so they can support each other - to get to know each other in school. The veterans have started to find out that I'm here. I've met a few. I haven't met all of them, but the ones that I have met are happy that there's someone here - a dedicated person to address their needs and to help them navigate these different things. Make sure they apply for health care and if they have a disability, to apply for the disability benefits. …. Another thing that I'd like to do is maybe have workshops for faculty and staff to maybe try to explain some of these things.
Any advice for students?
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Actually asking for help is a sign of strength - not weakness. And people want to help you, people! Especially for my veterans - don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm here. Stop by my office, email or call - I'll give you my cell phone number. You don't have to do it alone there. … You don't have to struggle. And next Monday and Tuesday, I'll be in the McCarthy lobby. I’ll have a table from 10 to 1 with a banner for people who want to sign and write words of gratitude, thanking our veterans for their service. I'll present it on Thursday the 10th in our Veterans Center. Hopefully, some veterans will show up. I'll bring in some refreshments.