The Mission: Help Student Veterans through Operation Education

Operation Education helps student veterans pursue their dreams

Karen White

Karen White

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — UC Riverside’s Karen White has never been an enlisted member of the military, but she is definitely a foot soldier on a not-so-secret mission.

Instead of camouflage, combat boots and lethal weapons, her battle tools are a genuine smile, an engaging personality and a determination to make a difference in the lives of veterans who are seeking a degree in higher education.

As leader of the charge, White, who is married to UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, regularly visits local service clubs and government entities to tell them about Operation Education, a support program for disabled veterans who are working towards a college degree. The program provides economic, academic and social support for student veterans and their families by combining the expertise of several campus offices.

White is winning her battle to garner support for the program. Since its official kick-off in May 2010, funds have grown to more than $38,000. Over the past several months, the Rotary Club of Riverside donated $20,000 and both the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the Kiwanis Club of Riverside donated $3,000 each. More than 200 smaller private donations have been made as well.

Karen White receiving check from Tracy Youden.

Karen White with Tracy Youden, president of the Rotary Club of Riverside.

The funds have allowed the program to expand. Last year four students received scholarships. This year there are eight: three senior undergraduates who are in the program for the second year, a senior who is receiving funds for the first time, a graduate student and three community college transfer students. One student graduated last year and is now working on his master’s degree at USC.

Zaima Gonzalez is one of the students receiving assistance from Operation Education.

As a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, her job was similar to that of a physician’s assistant, and required her to diagnose and treat sick and injured soldiers.

Zaima Gonzalez

Zaima Gonzalez (Photo by Michael Elderman)

Now, as a student at UCR, Gonzalez is pursuing her own dream: to become a hospital CEO. After being discharged she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2008 at UCR and is now enrolled in the campus’ M.B.A. program. She plans to continue on to get a Ph.D. in health services. Operation Education pays for the portion her tuition that is not covered by the GI Bill.

“As veterans, we served our country and now we are trying to get back on our feet,” said Gonzalez, whose husband, Omar, is a U.S. Marine veteran and UCR graduate. They have two children, David, 9, and Daniel, 2.

The soft-spoken and unassuming Gonzalez comes alive when talking about Karen White, who meets with each scholarship recipient at least once a quarter to find out how they are doing and to encourage them to take advantage of the range of campus services that will help them be successful in their transition to civilian life as a student.

“She has made me feel so special and welcome here at UCR,” Gonzalez said of White. “She really cares about how we are doing and is always available to talk.”

White said there is more to be done. She is writing a grant that could help create a Veteran’s Center on campus, which would expand the services and programs available to all veteran students. She is also working to expand Operation Education to help student veterans transition from local community colleges to UC Riverside.

Operation Education Fast Facts

  • White, UC Riverside associate of the chancellor, kicked off the Operation Education at UCR in May 2010. It is modeled after a program of the same name that was started while her husband, UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, served as president of the University of Idaho.
  • The program is open to honorably separated U.S. military veterans with service-related injuries sustained since Sept. 11, 2001. They must meet university requirements for admission as a degree-seeking student and must enroll full time at UC Riverside.
  • Priority is given to veterans with disabilities that resulted from action in a combat zone and those who are local residents. Scholarship recipients must meet standard financial aid need requirements and must first use other funding sources.
  • The program takes a holistic approach, addressing the financial, educational and social needs of the veterans and their families by combining the expertise of Veterans Affairs, Financial Aid, the Counseling Center, Student Special Services, faculty advisers and other related campus service offices.

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