Veterans at CUNY schools bring ‘excellence, diversity and life experience’ to campuses, chancellor says

Veterans looking to get a new start in their careers have found a boost at the city’s public colleges, according to CUNY.

More than 3,000 former service members are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs across its 24 campuses, a 50 percent increase from seven years ago, the school said. Administrators said the veterans are hungry to continue their academic pursuits and the schools have made a greater effort to assist those service members with navigating the college experience following their tours of duty.

“And we’re proud of our veterans — proud of the academic excellence, diversity and life experience they bring to all our campuses,” CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken said in a statement.

On Monday, CUNY’s Office of Veterans Affairs held a breakfast that honored its veteran students who had earned grades higher than 3.5 and presented them with special awards.

Samantha Ruiz, 35, who currently is studying sociology, was one of those honorees. The Harlem native and resident served nearly 14 years in the Navy and traveled the world during her service as an engineer.

Ruiz said she enlisted as a way to help pay for college and see the world, but she had to put off her academics to take care of her sons and complete her service.

“I always knew I was going to go to Hunter,” she said. “At that time I wanted to be a teacher and it was a good school for teaching.”

In 2015, she attended Manhattan Borough Community College and transferred to her dream school in January. Ruiz acknowledged that it was tough at first adjusting to school life, especially when her classmates were younger and less experienced, but she was able to make her own mark on the Hunter campus.

During her time in the Navy, she worked as a career and drug and alcohol counselor, and she’s still working those skills as a volunteer at Hunter’s student veteran services team.

“I know at BMCC and Hunter, the directors of the student veterans team are very hands on and helped us,” she said. “I did the same while overseas and want to continue that.”

Ruiz, who is scheduled to graduate next year, plans on attending graduate school for her master’s degree and continue helping people.

“A lot of my experiences have translated to this field, and I know there is a lot I can give back,” she said.