November 8, 2023
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Theatre Arts major Charlie Mills, Liberal Arts major Nija DeVries and Accounting major Elizabeth Marrow arrived at BMCC from different places and backgrounds. But all three have something very significant in common. They are Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and they have found a sense of community at the BMCC Veterans Resource Center (VRC).
Veterans Day—the federal holiday honoring military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces— is November 11, and Wilfred Cotto, Student Life manager at the BMCC Veterans Resource Center (VRC) encourages Americans to remember what the day is about.
“Thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice, support them every day and not just on Veterans day,” said Cotto, who himself served in the U.S. Navy from 1977 to 2005, completing multiple deployments during his time in the service.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is assisting fellow veterans with their transition from military service to college life,” Cotto, who was recently honored as a community change-maker by the NYC Dept. of Veterans Services added.
BMCC is currently home to 155 student veterans who are enrolled for the Fall 2023 semester. The VRC helps student veterans with a number of services including, applying for the VA/GI bill educational entitlements, assistance with processing VA enrollment certifications, peer-to-peer student veteran mentoring, housing resources, connecting military-connected students to campus and community services and social work interns who can assist students with transitions and readjustments.
The VRC also provides the student veterans with a place to form a sense of community on campus as BMCC student Veterans will profess.
Charlie Mills earning a second degree in Theatre Arts
“The biggest reason I joined the service was to change my life and get away from my old life,” said Charlie Mills, who at age 18 left his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and became a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Thirteen years later, after completing two tours of Iraq and another in Afghanistan, he completed his time in the service and began the transition to civilian life. But, he says he didn’t really have any place to settle down, so he traveled across the United States using the financial benefits he got from his time in the marines.
“When you get out of the military, people often don’t know what they’re looking for,” said Mills. “Then, in 2019, one of my buddies, who I was deployed to Iraq with, invited me to New York City and told me to check out BMCC. “
After spending a week in the city, Mills was sold so he made the move to New York and later, enrolled at BMCC as a Business Administration major. Now, he’s working on completing a second degree at BMCC, this time in Theatre Arts, after discovering his love of acting and working on set design after assuming a major role in a BMCC Theatre Arts production and other classes and workshops.
He says his overall transition from the military to college and civilian life itself was made easier thanks to the BMCC VRC.
“Coming back to a school setting was kind of scary,” said Mills. “Here at the VRC, I met other Veterans who went through the same things I went through, and I could have open conversations with other vets where I also learned about all the services available on campus.”
Nija DeVries will study Anthropology at Lehman College
Liberal major Nija DeVries, who grew up in Chicago and joined the Navy at age 19, around a year after graduating high school, agrees that the VRC provides student Veterans a place to talk and form friendships with people who’ve gone through similar experiences.
“The community I’ve found at the VRC is probably the safest place (for me) in the city,” said DeVries. “ We form a community where we can all come together, talk about our feelings, talk about our positions, or just talk, it’s relieving and you automatically, as a veteran, at least feel comfortable in knowing that you have someone else like you and you have that same mutual respect.”
During her time in the Navy, she spent time in Pensacola Fla., Virginia Beach as well as deployment to the Mediterranean region on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. After the Navy, she spent around two years in Tennessee and eventually made her way to New Jersey where she found her way to BMCC.
She is currently working on an intensive linguistics dialect study project measuring differences between artificial intelligence generated linguistics against actual human linguistics, was recently accepted into Lehman College, CUNY where she will study Anthropology.
“Ultimately, I want to study human behavior, how we interact with our surroundings,” said DeVries. “One of my options could be maintaining my close relationship with the Navy and work and study the internal culture there.”
Accounting major Elizabeth Marrow plans to work in Banking, open her own firm
Accounting major Elizabeth Marrow, who grew up in the Bronx, joined the U.S. Army in 2021 at age 32, because she wanted to try something different and get out of her comfort zone.
“I’m studying accounting because I love numbers,” said Marrow. “I want to be able to help people with their money.”
She says BMCC professors work with students on a one-on-one basis and have made her entry into college life much easier than she expected. After BMCC, she plans to go to St. John’s University for a bachelor’s degree and she says, will go on to earn her masters as well.
“After that, I plan to start working in banking and eventually, start my own firm, potentially as a tax accountant,” she said.
Marrow says the VRC provides a sense of community and has provided a plethora of services and guidance.
“When you’re in this office, it’s like we’ve all been through the same things,” said Marrow. “It doesn’t matter how long you served, what your rank was, what unit or service, it doesn’t matter because we’ve all served. Now we’ve all gotten out and are going to school, trying to succeed and find success in life.”
- BMCC VRC helps Veterans transition into civilian and college life
- VRC Director says it’s important to support Veterans every day, not just Veterans Day
- More than 150 Veterans currently enrolled at BMCC