Sylvia Spotlights: Writing, Women, and the Big "What-ifs"

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Archive for the category “Family”

“My Writing Process” Blog Tour

Deadlines. Flexibility. Routine. The need to write. The need to create or produce. Fortunately, I am disciplined to sit at my desk and write almost daily, but taking part in this “My Writing Process” blog tour at the invitation of a writer and teacher I truly admire—Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days–really made me think. Judy is currently working on Wild Women, Wild Voices, which intrigues me to no end since I’m a big advocate for empowering women. You can find out more about Judy’s projects and process at www.judyreeveswriter.com

Diving into the 4 questions this blog tour is based on, I begin…

  1. What am I working on?

That’s a loaded question since I write non-fiction, fiction and articles—and teach.

For fiction I’m working on “the book of my heart.” Finally. It’s been simmering and shifting voice and point of view and being pushed to the back burner for seven years now. It’s about a breast cancer survivor who has lost her mojo and believes the only way she can get it back is by reviving her high school rock band—much to the surprise of her husband, kids, and best friends/band members. This year I have an agent who is so ready to take it out into the world, that I finally have a deadline. Maybe that’s what was missing all along. As a journalist I thrive on deadlines.

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

I’m also self-publishing my old romance titles that I received the rights back on. The first, Salsa Serenade, is out now.

Non-fiction--biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

Non-fiction–biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

For non-fiction, I still work with my The Book of Latina Women: 150 Vidas of Passion, Strength and Success. The 2013 re-release is currently a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards; winners will be announced on June 28 at a banquet in Las Vegas. Receiving that call from Kirk Whisler of Latino Literacy Now was my version of what the Academy Awards must be like. I was speechless and teary and overcome. The women featured in the book are amazing and even today I get goosebumps when I speak about them. My agent and I are talking about breaking down the book into a series for middle grade readers and highlighting much-needed Latina role models from various career fields.

For journalism, my favorite magazine to write for is Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. I cover amazing educators, advances in the education field, overcoming stereotypes and visionary perspectives. Next up is a piece on the incredible community outreach work being done by students of the MFA program at Cal State San Bernardino headed by Dr. Juan Delgado, a poet himself.

  1. How does my work differ from that of others of its genre?

Good question. In all my work—fiction, non-fiction, articles—I find myself writing about inspiring people/characters I’d want to hang around with at a dinner table. I write about strong, intelligent, selfless women, Latinos and Latinas who blaze trails and surpass the bar. I write about people who have integrity and values and follow their passion despite the risks; those who have time for others and learn as much as they teach. Those who question the norm and break stereotypes. Those who speak for the underdog. Their stories mesmerize and need to be told.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

Because I believe every person has a story to tell—and that includes the characters that live in my head for my novels. I’m intrigued by people and their journeys, their obstacles and their vision. I’m often in awe of how they can somehow pull from that inner core—even on the darkest of days—strength, desire, perseverance and passion to change direction and make things happen.

  1. How does your writing process work?

It starts with acceptance of fewer hours sleep and that my desk will never stay clean for more than a couple of days before the next project takes over the space. It usually pays off in the end…

Elbow deep in a new project

Elbow deep in a new project

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I teach media studies and journalism at a community college. The days I don’t, I get up by 5:00 to start writing on my fiction. For some reason, my brain is in its more creative juices. On those days I pick up where I left off. Almost always I work on my desktop computer, though I carry a notebook to jot down ideas, or else I forget. I’m going to try to use my laptop this summer for more portability. I take an exercise break—usually a spin class or brisk walk—around 9:30 to get the blood flowing and give my brain a rest. Then right back to it.

In the afternoons, between lesson plans and grading papers, I work on articles, non-fiction, or editing. That could mean research. Interviews. Outlines. Transcribing notes. First draft. Second draft. Third draft. Sometimes more, especially for articles. At night I’m usually fried, so I watch TV and enjoy it, dissecting well-written shows.

Deadlines trump all routines, however. When I worked on The Book of Latina Women, two weeks before deadline, I was probably at my desk 15-18 hours a day.

And then there’s life. Curve balls are thrown at us all the time and I deal with those as they come. More importantly, I like spending time with my kids, family and friends and practice escapism in different forms like salsa dance lessons, hiking, reading, traveling, eating, movies and concerts. I convince myself they’ll bring a depth to my writing, one way or another.

I figure how can I write about life if I’m not experiencing it?

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’d like to learn more about my projects and writing life, please check out www.sylvia-mendoza.com

* * * * * *

Now it’s time to pass the baton. Two of my friends are up next on this blog tour and will post their routines on May 5.

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Caridad Pineiro is a Jersey Girl who’s written over 40 novels/novellas—dark and sexy romantic suspense and paranormal romances for those who live to love on the edge—and contemporary romances under her sweet, but still naughty side, Charity Pineiro. Visit www.caridad.com/blog

Ara Burklund writes YA with a unique voice and twist. Her first book, If I Die Before I Wake, is out now from the Alloy Entertainment division of Warner Brothers. Take a look at her other projects, sure to stand out in the ever-expanding YA genre, at www.araburklund.com

Encinitas Street Fair–Connecting Readers to Local Authors!

The ENCINITAS STREET FAIR is this coming weekend, April 26-27! It’s so much fun and a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday in San Diego.

Encinitas Street Fair

If you’re in the area, please visit the READ LOCAL San Diego booth on Sunday from 1:30-4:00. I’ll be joining other authors as we sign and talk books.

The opportunity to meet and mingle with other local authors of all genres, meet readers and share our writing process sounds like a perfect kind of weekend. To have it in quaint yet eclectic Old Encinitas on Highway 101–one of my favorite communities in San Diego–is the proverbial icing on the cake.

I’m proud to be a member of READ LOCAL San Diego. The mission of READ LOCAL is to connect readers with authors in their communities. According to its website, it was “created to raise awareness of the expansive literary community in the greater San Diego area, to foster a meaningful connection between local authors and readers, and to enrich the lives of readers through ongoing events and outreach programs.”

I just like the fact that we see the power of the written word come alive in a variety of genres; there’s something for every reader. Much like a bouquet of wildflowers, we will each offer the unique beauty of our individual books as part of a bigger collection of art.

Hope to see you Sunday!!!

For more info on READ LOCAL, visit http://sandiego.readlocal.org/

For more info on the 400+ booths and the weekend schedule for music and entertainment, visit: http://www.sandiego.org/events/festivals-and-street-fairs/encinitas-april-street-fair.aspx

The Poetic Flow of One Man’s Perspective–My Heart Jumped

Inspiration. I seem to always be looking for it. I run into it all the time.

My critique group rocks

With my friends, who endure hardships and still are the most amazing, generous, talented, loving people surrounding me. With my own kids, who I sometimes watch with awe with their blossoming. With my parents who withstood unbearable conditions to succeed and offer their kids better lives. With my professors, whose knowledge spurs me to do better. With my employers and editors who who create environments of respect and professionalism that make me aspire to make a difference. With my educator mentors who are in academia because they want to teach and envision our future leaders. With my colleagues, who are so committed, their achievements create magical outcomes. With my interviewees, who have taught me about life and living and how attitude is everything.

I’ve been lucky to work with students and clients like at UCSD-Extension, who write about their lives. Memoirs. Creative non-fiction. It is a brave thing, and often times, I am inspired beyond words as they are willing to be raw and real. Maybe this is why I started my own company offering writing and editing services–so that I could help clients develop their stories while staying true to their visions and voices–and ultimately share with the world the life experiences that so moved them, transformed them, or led them to better places of awareness. I see my clients who are already inspirational and motivational speakers like Daniel Gutierrez and Dr. Yasmin Davidds, whose words I read to this day.

And now, my clients who wrote 8 Ways to Say I Love My Life will have their book out this Fall.

Raw, real, rich in detail, 8 Ways Delivers

All eight authors laid their hearts bare and the resulting book has that “wow” factor to me. I cried. I laughed. I saw light after dark despairing depths.

What I know is this, some memoirs, inspirational works and self-help books rise above. They have the potential to inspire and change lives.

I listened to Jane Fonda speak on Life: The Third Act and her focus was on–what do we do now, with long life expectancies, for the last three decades of our lives? Should I do anything differently, I wondered.

It is not only about our purpose in this world, she said, but in our approach to it. How do we react to the good that comes to us and the bad that corners us?  When you strip away everything material, what matters? Fonda shared a quote by Viktor Frankl (how did I not read him before?), author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

I had to find him, his work, his words.

“I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets…”

His passage on love flowed so poetically, I read it over and over and my heart leapt. Imagine, to be lucky to love that way, to have someone love you that way. To know that love is one of those “things” that matter. So as Frankl, a Holocaust victim enlightened me when he shared bits of his life and philosophy, I saw inspiration.  Those who write about their lives are bold and brave and inspire in their own way. I am right where I am meant to be.

I close with Frankl’s poetic perspective of love:

“…for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…” 

~ Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor & Author, Man’s Search for Meaning

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July, everyone!  After taking an International Reporting class for my Digital Journalism master’s program, today especially, I’m terribly proud and eternally grateful to live in America.  Despite problems and shortcomings, in comparison to many other countries, we have so many opportunities and blessings. I thank my dad, brother, uncles and cousins who have served in our Armed Forces. And for the thousands who serve today, thank you! Though your transition home may take time, I hope you know that your sacrifices for our freedom have not gone unnoticed.

Today I will celebrate, I will cry when I truly listen to the words of our patriotic songs, and I will believe in better days ahead. Please enjoy some of my favorite versions of God Bless America (Martina McBride), our National Anthem–The Star Spangled Banner (Kelly Clarkson) and America the Beautiful (Ray Charles).

Picasso: Transforming a San Antonio Community

Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos

The Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos exhibit at Texas A&M University San Antonio brought more to the community than exposure to great art.

ASSIGNMENT: FINAL PROJECT/BACKPACK JOURNALISM
Digital Journalism Masters Program
By Sylvia Mendoza


Okay. This was one of the most difficult, most challenging homework assignments I’ve EVER had. I lost track of the number of hours–no–days spent on developing the story.

In retrospect, since I’m a print journalist, I should have just written the story the way I normally would, then break it down into script format for the video I put together.  The story was pretty amazing and inspirational as it was–my favorite types of stories. Texas A&M University, San Antonio, is in the “South Side,” which up until now, has been notoriously an impoverished area with high drop out rates.

Texas A&M opened this campus in the heart of this community, the only four year university in the surrounding vicinity. The positive impact has been great. Enrollment increases every semester. With more than 500 acres to build upon, the architectural plans are phenomenal and the curriculm, top of the line.

And the best part–the community has access to everything it offers–from classes to cultural events and everything in between.

With the effort of many, the university brought the exhibit “Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos” straight from Spain; never before had any of the 97 pieces left that country. Nearly 10,000 people made their way to the exhibit.

With the motto: Access to Success, the university gave a glimpse of greatness, and all of a sudden, many residents and student saw a glimpse of all the possiblities for their own futures and the blessings in their own backyard.

Onward.

Texas A&M University San Antonio

Texas A&M San Antonio is shaking things up on the South Side. The possibilities for growth in educational & cultural avenues is great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Script –Picasso: Transforming a San Antonio Community

 [Notes: VERSION 1]

The Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos Exhibit took place from March through May 2012 at Texas A&M University, San Antonio, a brand new campus with only one building to its name.

[ReadRate:15]

[Reporter/Narrator: MENDOZA]{**MENDOZA**}

[TAKE: CLIP Montage of San Antonio Proper; lead into South Side San Antonio & Photos of Picasso: VO/Mendoza]: 1:30

ATH THE HEART OF SAN ANTONIO, THERE IS A CULTURAL RICHNESS IT OFFERS ITS PEOPLE AND TOURISTS ALIKE. LESS THAN 25 MILES FROM ITS CORE, HOWEVER IS…THE SOUTH SIDE, UP UNTIL NOW,  AN IMPOVERISHED AREA WITH A HIGH DROP OUT RATE AND NOT MUCH OPPORTUNITY TO WITNESS AND EXPERIENCE THE ART & EDUCATION AS INSPIRATION.

BUT WHEN TEXAS A&M OPENED ITS SAN ANTONIO CAMPUS ON THE SOUTH SIDE LAST AUGUST, THE MOTTO WAS “ACCESS TO SUCCESS.” THIS WAS BECAUSE OF THE BELIEF THAT THE MORE THEY OPENED THEIR DOORS TO CULTURAL AND EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES, THE MORE THE COMMUNITY WOULD BENEFIT.  

BRINGING a PICASSO EXHIBIT TO THE CAMPUS BECAME A MISSION FOR THE UNIVERSITY AND THE EFFORTS OF MANY MADE IT HAPPEN. SYLVIA SUTTON, A TEXAS A&M MOM BORN AND RAISED ON THE SOUTHSIDE—AND A FORMER SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, STARTED THE BALL ROLLING.

SERVING ON THE NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL SPANISH TASK FORCE OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN WASHINGTON, D.C., SHE IS A CERTIFIED GENEOLOGIST. HER RESEARCH TOOK HER TO SPAIN OFTEN. WHILE IN SPAIN, SHE BEFRIENDED JAVIER MEDINA, THE OWNER OF AN EXTRAORDINARY AMOUNT OF PICASSO WORKS AND CONVINCED HIM TO BRING AN EXHIBIT TO SAN ANTONIO, AND, MORE SPECIFICALLY, TO TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, SAN ANTONIO.

 

Texas A&M University San Antonio

Grand clock tower at TAMUSA entrance greets students, community & visitors

 

[TAKE: VO: SYLVIA SUTTON]: 56 I THINK I WAS A GOOD DAUGHTER. I WAS A GOOD PROFESSIONAL. I WAS A SCHOOL TEACHER AND THEN A SCHOOL PRINCIPAL FOR 23 YEARS. I WAS A GOOD MOTHER, I HOPE. AND A GOOD WIFE. AND NOW I’M ENTERING ANOTHER SEASON OF MY LIFE. AND I WAS THINKING WHAT CAN I DO FOR MY PEOPLE?

THIS VISION OF WHY NOT THE SOUTH SIDE? WHY NOT BRING IT TO THESE PEOPLE? MANY OF THEM WILL LIVE THEIR LIVES AND NEVER SEE A PICASSO OR A WORK OF ART. WHY NOT PICASSO COME TO THEM?

[TAKE: VIDEO DR. MARIA FERRIER]: 40 SYLVIA SUTTON HAD BEEN WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE OF DE GALVEZ, BUT ALSO WITH THE PICASSO FOLKS. AND THE PICASSO FOLKS SAID “WE WANT TO BRING THIS SHOW TO THE UNITED STATES AND TO TEXAS BECAUSE OF THE DE GALVEZ CONNECTION. AND SHE SAID, “WELL, I KNOW A UNIVERSITY WHERE YOU SHOULD DO IT. SURE ENOUGH, BEFORE THIS BUILDING WAS COMPLETELY BUILT, THE GUYS FROM SPAIN CAME, LOOKED AT THE SECOND FLOOR AND SAID, “OH MY GOODNESS. THIS IS THE PERFECT EXHIBIT HALL. SO THAT’S HOW IT WAS DECIDED TO BRING IT HERE.

 

[PAN: STILLS]: 9

[TAKE: VIDEO DR. MARIA FERRIER]: 45 WE HAVE A BRAND NEW CHANCELLOR BY THE NAME OF JOHN SHARP AND HE IS AMAZING. I TOLD HIM ABOUT THE VISION, HE SAID, “ALL RIGHT MARIA, WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?” AND I TOLD HIME AND HER MADE IT HAPPEN.

SO FOR OUR STUDENTS—AND NOT JUST THE STUDENTS BUT FOR THIS COMMUNITY,  THIS VERY UNDERSERVED AREA OF SAN ANTONIO, TO HAVE THE GREAT WORKS OF PICASSO—AND NOT ONLY PICASSO BUT SALVADOR DALI—IT’S CALLED PICASSO, AMIGOS y CONTEMPORANEOS—SO HIS CONTEMPORARIES AND EVEN SOME OF HIS TEACHERS…WE’VE HAD MORE THAN 6,000 PEOPLE COME BY HERE.

 

[TAKE: VO/ MENDOZA]: 1.00 FOR ALMOST TWO MONTHS, 97 PIECES OF ART BY PICASSO AND FRIENDS THAT HAVE NEVER BEFORE LEFT SPAIN had found their way to TAMUSA CAMPUS. IT HAS MADE AN IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY. ALMOST 10,000 PEOPLE HAVE WITNESSED THIS RARE OPPORTUNITY. FOR MANY, THIS IS A CHANCE OF A LIFETIME.

FOR OTHERS, SEEING THESE GREAT PIECES BY PICASSO HAS NOT ONLY BROUGHT ART IN THEIR LIVES AND INTO THEIR SOULS, THE EXPERIENCE CAN IMPACT AND AFFECT THEIR VISION OF THEIR OWN FUTURE. TEXAS A&M HAS GIVEN THEM ACCESS THAT CAN VERY WELL LEAD THEM TO THEIR OWN SUCCESS.

[TAKE: PAN STILLS]: 10

[TAKE: VIDEO: DR. FERRIER]: 15 IT HAS BEEN ABSOLUTELY HUGE FOR OUR COMMUNITY AND OUR STATE. AND WE WERE VERY, VERY BLESSED. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? IT’S ALL ABOUT THOSE DIVINE CONNECTIONS I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE IN AND WITNESS EVERY DAY.


[TAKE: PAN STILLS/ VO MENDOZA]: 25 PERHAPS TEXAS A&M STUDENTS AND THE COMMUNITY ON THE SOUTH SIDE WILL BE INSPIRED BY PICASSO, BY HIS ART AND BY HIS PURPOSE. PERHAPS THEY’LL BE INSPIRED TO REACH FOR THEIR OWN SUCCESS. HAVING THE PICASSO, AMIGOS & CONTEMPORARIOS EXHIBIT AT THIS CAMPUS WAS ALMOST MAGICAL.

 

[TAKE: VO: Sylvia Sutton]: 10 THINK ABOUT WHAT THEY’LL SAY 30 YEARS FROM NOW. MY UNIVERSITY HAD PICASSO HANGING IN THE HALLWAYS. AND THEY’RE GOING TO SAY, “YOU’RE CRAZY.”

[OUTCUE: MENDOZA]: 6 “FROM THE SOUTH SIDE, AT TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, SAN ANTONIO, I’M SYLVIA MENDOZA.”

TOTAL TIME:4:45] {**PKG**}

“Serving Those Who Have Served Us”: USC School of Social Work Reaching Military Vets

“Serving Those Who Have Served Us”: USC School of Social Work Reaching Military Vets and Families
By Sylvia Mendoza


Vietnam Vet Ernie D’Leon believes concerted efforts of USC’s School of Social Work, nonprofit organizations and U.S. military services, can help vets deal with their demons and help themselves.

When Army Sergeant Ernie D’Leon arrived home from Vietnam, complete with a Purple Star for his heroic efforts, he had hoped to ease into civilian life and bury his combat experience. The first question his girlfriend asked, however, was, “Did you kill anyone?”

Thinking he would have had time to transition, to feel solid American ground, to have time to adjust, the question instead jolted him into a reality he was not prepared for. “I realized I might not be treated as a regular person, that I maybe I might even be looked at as a barbarian,” he said.

 D’Leon was only 20 when he and 70 men were sent on a fire fight. The two men on either side of him were instantly killed in an ambush. He earned the Purple Heart and was sent to Fort Ord in California for four months before rotating out of the service.

By day, he was “normal,” masking his pain and trauma. By night, nightmares plagued his sleep, the flashbacks vivid.  “In Vietnam, you ceased compassion for life—for your own and for your enemies. That haunts you.”

D’Leon disappeared to Tahoe for two years, to try to get his head straight. “There wasn’t a name for post-traumatic stress back then,” he says. “The government trains me to kill a guy but it doesn’t help me figure out how to live my life after I do that.”

The transition was as difficult for him as it had been for his father. A WW2 vet, the senior D’Leon had been in thirty-six bombing missions and suffered from debilitating nightmares, said D’Leon. It was painful for him to watch.

D’Leon did eventually come back to San Diego, earned his degree from San Diego State University, became an assistant vice-president of a software engineering company, married and had kids. The façade worked for a while. Then, 20 years after returning from Vietnam, he self-medicated, had self-destructive tendencies, then spiraled and crashed, the long suppressed stress and nightmares of the war finally bringing him to his knees. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

He finally talked to a therapist. The timing must have been right because he cried and admitted to survivor’s guilt. Since then he has pulled himself up and tried to help himself with positive activities such as surfing, yoga, therapy, and community service. Education was his salvation.

It seems almost all military vets, especially those who see combat, can suffer from PTSD or any of a number of ailments that affect overall health and well-being as they try to transition to a civilian life, a “normal” life. Home and relationships are not what they were before they enlisted.  Even though there are countless organizations, nonprofits and government programs that offer assistance to vets and their families, they are mostly run by volunteers.

D’Leon himself is on the board of directors of American Combat Veterans of War (ACVOW), based in San Diego’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital (though not funded by VA). He works as an outreach group facilitator and when he can get groups of vets—from all wars—to gather and talk about their experiences, he knows they are on the right track of healing—or at least facing their demons.

He also knows he is not trained as a social worker or therapist.

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San Diego, a true military town, has more than 175,000 military personnel and families and approximately 57,000 retired military personnel. Now San Diego is home base for the USC School of Social Work Academic Center, which offers a specialization in Military Social Work. Graduate students are trained to become “mental health professionals with the unique mental health, physical and transitional concerns of active duty service members, veterans and their families.”

The University of Southern California (USC) started the first of its kind program in the nation with its School of Social Work—a specialization on military vets and their families. Its slogan on the Military Social Work’s program’s brochure states, “Serving Those Who Have Served Us” and “No one comes home from war unchanged.”

Dr. Jose Coll, former Marine and founder of USC School of Social Work Academic Center in San Diego, one of the first universities to offer a specialization in military social work.

Dr. Jose Coll, former Marine and founder of USC School of Social Work Academic Center in San Diego, one of the first universities to offer a specialization in military social work.

Based at the USC School of Social Work Academic Center in San Diego, this emphasis includes special training of graduate students in specific courses such as “The Military as a Workplace Culture,” Managing Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress and Preventive Care and Health Management in Military and Veteran Settings. Offered electives delve further into issues that may affect a vet and his/her family, including: Disabilities and Family Caregiving; domestic violence; loss, grief and bereavement; Diversity; Mental Health Practice with Severe and Persistently Mentally Ill; Substance Abuse and Other Addictive Disorders; the Societal Response to War: Advocacy, Politics and Policy; even Spirituality is covered. Students are also placed in internships where they will work directly with vets and their families in everyday transition, such as at schools, rehabilitation centers, correction facilities, veterans affairs hospitals, university counseling centers, mental health centers. Dr. Jose Coll, a Cuban immigrant and Marine vet who served from 1996-2000, is one of the founders of the military social work program and former director of the USC San Diego Academic Center. “This is a culture unto itself,” he explained. “Active duty and vets’ needs—and their families’—are unique. We have to help prepare students to become trained mental health professionals familiar with their unique mental health, physical health and transitional concerns.”

At Coll’s urging the center was placed in San Diego, a military town. There are approximately 95,000 active duty personnel in the county, and with families, that number increases to 175,000. There are about 57,000 retired military personnel. In addition, Coll believes subcultures like Latino, African American, and women vets have specific needs to be addressed. By tradition—whether family, societal or cultural—these subcultures have more expectations and doubts when transitioning to civilian life. In addition, it takes time for active duty, vets and their families to learn to trust professionals.

An injury made Coll retire early and that was difficult because he was not ready to retire at 23. As he learned more about social work and went on to earn his PhD in the subject, he knew he wanted to address military needs. Coll’s book, A Civilian Counselor’s Primer for Counseling Veterans, focuses on the family system, sub-cultures, brain injuries, new interventions, exposure therapy, substance abuse and homelessness, among others. “The school’s mission is an enormous undertaking, but a necessary one.” Another book is in the works.

If vets, active duty and their families don’t get the attention they need by trained professionals, they can spiral out of control, said Coll. According to the Center for a New American Security, suicide rates of military vets and active duty personnel from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has increased rapidly. And according to the Veteran’s Administration, there can be as many as one suicide every 80 minutes. “Over 50 percent of individuals who committed suicide did not see combat,” said Coll. “There could have been counter-transference from drill sergeants in basic training, or any other number of reasons, even though the military is selective about who gets in.”

The United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs website shows that VA’s suicide hotline has been receiving about 10,000 calls a month from current and former service members. Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 500,000 calls and made more than 18,000 life-saving rescues.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) estimate that over 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.  America’s homeless veterans come from all wars—World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. Almost half of homeless are Vietnam veterans and of these, more than 50 percent are African American or Hispanic.

Then there are some issues that plague veterans across the board. The new buzz phrase for PTSD symptom is “moral injury,” says D’Leon. “The moral injury is the dilemma faced in those first two years of coming back. You had the greatest ideals in the world: honor, bravery, conviction. It’s tough to rationalize, let alone tough live with, knowing you were a part of something so against all the principles of spirituality.”

The transition home can be brutal. In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post in January 2012, an increase in numbers of domestic violence, post traumatic stress cases, brain injuries was cited.

“In that place between military and civilian life, a warrior falls off the radar,” explained D’Leon. “Hunting down those who fall off that radar is essential. Not much has changed since Vietnam in treating military and their transition home. The Veterans Administration does a great job with the resources they have. It’s not enough.”

Opening the Military Social Work program has probably come at the right time and aims to do this. Enrollment has increased since it opened in 2009, going from 47 students to 180 in 2011. An absolute benefit about the program, said Coll, is that 70 percent of the students have had some formal affiliation with the military. “Some are retired, some are spouses, some are military children. There are captains sitting in a classroom with enlisted men and women. There are vets from different wars. And yet, they are all there with one thing in mind—they have to understand and approach the military culture differently.”

A Civilian Counselor's Primer for Counseling Veterans by Dr. Jose Coll

A Civilian Counselor's Primer for Counseling Veterans by Dr. Jose Coll

Another major component to the program, said Coll, who is now at St. Leo University as Director of Veteran Student Services, is to get vets to use their GI bills and earn their higher education degrees. “They already have the leadership and discipline training and can think critically,” he said. “With a degree, they can have voice and power and be able to change their lives politically, economically and socially.”

This could be easier said than done. Many vets do not feel like they fit in. They may be sitting in a classroom with other 23-year olds, but how many have been deployed to Afghanistan three times? “The community at large doesn’t understand where you’ve been as active duty,” said Coll. “This is a challenge you have to face for many years to come, for the rest of your life. You have to use your experience but don’t let it get in your way to success. You gave that person sitting next to you the opportunity not to serve.”

For some, the best transition might be to start in community colleges. Often times, however, any transition is unbearable and takes time.

“Even if you can sit still, your mind is going a million miles a minute,” said D’Leon. It took him nearly six years to earn his degree at San Diego State University after returning from Vietnam. “It’s hard to focus when you’ve been trained to move at a moment’s notice. You’re aware of every minute thing—shuffling of papers, a pencil that is dropped, the inflections of your professor’s voice. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue. Sometimes it’s difficult to participate because you’ve been trained not to make mistakes—or someone can die. Better to not say anything, not put yourself in that position. That’s the mentality of a combat vet coming back to the classroom.”

Coll realizes the implementation of a program like USC’s military social work may take years to see a difference, but the difference has begun. His biggest wish is that the Department of Defense develop a model where, as soon as men and women are recruited, they are prepared to start thinking of life after the military, for retirement. “Everyone has to get out sooner or later, and the dialogue has to be about your newfound capabilities and the transition to school and career. The military has to take ownership of this element of transition.”

In the meantime, Coll knows USC is on the right track in addressing the military culture specifically. “Education can turn their lives around, but we have to give them the tools and attention to see their abilities and believe that they can be productive members of society after serving in the military.”

Vietnam vet Ernie D'Leon, kneeling left, with his recon team

Vietnam vet Ernie D'Leon, at left, kneeling, with his recon team

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Jury Finds Gunman Legally Sane at Time of School Shooting

O'Rourke Shot at Elementary School Children, Wounding Two

San Diego Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan reacts to March 16 verdict on insanity plea petition from convicted gunman, Brendan O'Rourke.

By Sylvia Mendoza

Vista, Calif—After two days of deliberation, a jury determined that Brendan O’Rourke, who opened fire on a San Diego county elementary school, wounding two girls, was legally sane at the time of the attack. After the verdict was returned Friday at San Diego Superior Court, North County Division, presiding Judge Aaron H. Katz directed O’Rourke to return on April 20 for sentencing, which could be up to 103 years.

Dozens of parents and school officials had crowded into the gallery at Department 24. Many broke into tears when the verdict was read. “They [jurors] did the right thing,” said Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan. “They said, ‘you don’t get to do that to our kids.’”

O’Rourke, 41, was convicted on March 6 of seven counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, and seven counts of assault with a firearm. When he opened fire on children in the playground at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad during their lunch hour with a loaded .357 Magnum handgun in October 2010, he seriously wounded two girls, ages 6 and 7. In addition to his weapon, also in his possession were extra ammunition, a gas can and matches, according to Carlsbad police reports.

Once convicted, O’Rourke immediately petitioned for an insanity plea.

“The evidence pointed to a cold, calculated a well-planned crime,” said Stephan. “The defendant intended to take many lives.”

A licensed security guard, the gun was registered to O’Rourke even though he was working in a telecommunications company at the time of his attack on the school. Stephan explained that if O’Rourke had been found insane, he would have been turned over to a mental facility, but could petition to be restored to sanity within one year of incarceration. “It’s not common, but it does happen,” Stephan said. “That’s the potential consequence of an insanity plea.”

Stephan praised the community that had jumped into action to protect the children that October day—from staff members who covered children with their own bodies, to the construction workers who tackled, captured and held O’Rourke until police arrived.  “There was only one villain in the story,” Stephan said, “but there were many heroes.”

Yet, repercussions may be felt for a long time to come. “Some kids still don’t want to go out on the playground to play,” Stephan said. “The jury rendered a just verdict.”  

 

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Latino Scholars: Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower

Loui Olivas Interview

Dr. Loui Olivas of Arizona State University& AAHHE Founder

Dr. Loui Olivas, Arizona State Assistant VP for Academic Affairs, says AAHHE helps develop Latino/a faculty and administrators for leadership positions in higher education and serves as an advocacy group to help Hispanics complete graduate & doctoral programs.

 

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Latino Scholars: Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower to Lead
By Sylvia Mendoza  

Even with a master’s degree or twenty years experience in a dream career, it would be easy to feel like a slacker when sitting among the nearly 400 attendees at the annual American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) Convention. Even though the gathering of scholars could be intimidating, it is mostly inspiring. At the opening reception, Rubén Martinez, author of Crossing Over, jokingly stated, “There are so many PhDs in here, we could make the Hilton Costa Mesa levitate without assistance of any substance.”

The 7th annual AAHHE convention was held in Costa Mesa, California, March 7-10. The 2012 theme, “Celebrating Our Similarities, Embracing Our Differences,” reflects AAHHE’s mission: to bring together Hispanic professors, deans, chancellors, presidents, and administrators of higher education institutions with students to celebrate research, dissertations and other accomplishments.

Embracing “differences” includes acknowledging the many ethnicities that fall under the “Hispanic” umbrella—Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, and many more. “Similarities include our desire for equal access to higher education, and how Latino scholars produce amazingly fine material once they get there,” explained Dr. Loui Olivas, a business professor at Arizona State University and one of the AAHHE founders.

Often times, however, it is a long journey. A Latino pursuing a PhD can be the only person of color in his or her university and can feel isolated. At the convention, however, students are not alone.

The convention showcases doctoral research in the annual dissertation competition. Topics run the gamut: microbiology, transborder studies,  food science, health, political science, social justice, business, medicine, communication and education—not just Chicano studies.

Dozens of workshops featured the latest findings in those areas. Keynote speakers Luis Ubiña, president of the Ford Foundation, and artist-activist Dr. Judith Baca of UCLA, revealed their personal struggles to rise to the top of their games. “My mother who was from Ecuador, bent her back over a sewing machine to get me to a better place,” said Ubiña. He ended up at Harvard. The Foundation, which offers approximately $500 million a year to various worldwide charities that effect social change, will also support AAHHE efforts, he said. Baca explained how her art is a reflection and celebration of the journeys of Latino families and their place in California history. Raised by women in East L.A., her grandmother was a powerful influence. “Women survive in a hostile environment and lead movements,” she said.   

For attendees whose roots gave them the gumption to seek the proverbial “American Dream,” the speakers’ messages struck a chord.  “Judith was the first AAHHE speaker to ever get a standing ovation,” said Olivas.

Indeed, the convention seemed like a celebration of all things Latino. Connections were made over café con leche. Attendees slipped from Spanish to English, or Spanglish. In between workshops, there was laughter and heated discussion, art displays and salsa music, kisses and hugs instead of handshakes—all from a robust culture-based energy. “It’s like my family, mi familia,” said Dr. Leticia Oseguera, assistant professor of Education Policy Studies at Penn State.

For many, family helped get the Latino scholars to the likes of Harvard and Stanford, Cornell and Georgetown, USC and UCLA. At the AAHHE convention their education continued. They witnessed generations of successful Latino administrators who have been there, done that. They survived and thrived and now make a difference in decision-making positions that reach far beyond the ivory tower of a higher education institution.

As the young Latino scholars step into those leadership positions over the next twenty years, engaging their communities will better impact social change, said Olivas. “When Latino scholars give back to the community, everyone benefits.”  

 

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