Finding Personal Growth While Advocating for Student Veteran

Vincent Becerra is a U.S. Air Force veteran and Industrial/Organizational Psychology student putting his studies to work for his fellow veterans on campus.

Vincent Becerra is a U.S. Air Force veteran and Industrial/Organizational Psychology student putting his studies to work for his fellow veterans on campus.
Vincent Becerra in the Student Veterans Organization office on the Prescott Campus. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Connor McShane)

Vincent Becerra (’24) didn’t always plan to study psychology.

After graduating high school in California, Vincent went straight to the Air Force, following the footsteps of his three older siblings who had already joined the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy. He chose the Air Force because it was more technology-focused than other branches and served for four years as a radio frequency technician.

He started at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus in 2019 as an Aerospace Engineering major, but after a couple of years, the stress of engineering made him question his decision. With the help of his academic advisor, he found Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology, the study of people’s behavior within organizations to improve overall productivity and personal well-being.

“She mentioned I/O psychology, and I was already doing I/O psychology stuff. . . making [campus] better for the vets,” he explained. “I’ve actually found my footing with what I wanted to do.”

Devotion to Helping Student Veterans

After serving his country, Vincent now serves his veteran community on campus as the Student Veteran Liaison for the Student Veterans Organization, veteran representative for the Student Campus Enhancement Fund, veteran orientation leader and a veteran Campus Academic Mentor.

“I first started off with being an orientation leader for the veterans. It really helps them transition from military to here, having that representation,” he said.

Vincent’s work in the Veterans Office on campus ranges from helping other student veterans find housing and offering support resources to being a shoulder to cry on and advocating for change on campus. He’s passionate about helping veterans transition from military life to college life, which brings unique challenges that many typical college students don’t understand.

One challenge he and other veterans have faced on campus is the UNIV 101 class required for all first-year students. The course aims to help students transition from the high school mindset into college life, but the curriculum isn’t as helpful to veterans, so Vincent has been working to build a curriculum that can match their needs.

“Less than 1% of the population joins the military, and of that small population, only a few of us then go to college. . . and fewer of us ever finish college because of whatever’s going on at home, so building that community is so important for the vets here,” Vincent said. He is even trying to build a community of all student veterans in Arizona.

Many veterans choose Embry-Riddle Worldwide for their studies, but Vincent chose the Prescott Campus because he wanted to be around other people in a smaller setting rather than a large university. “At times, it almost feels like I was back in the military, and that’s what helped me really transition as well as I could from military life to civilian life now,” he said.

Vincent noted that he and the other veterans on campus just want to see each other thrive. Each semester, when new veterans come to campus for orientation, Vincent is the one to guide them. He tells them, “Even though I'm probably 10 years younger than you or a couple years older than you, I see you as my children and I want to see you succeed.”

Veteran Life on the Prescott Campus

Veterans coming to college after serving are typically a few years older than the traditional college student attending straight out of high school. Vincent cited one of the difficulties of starting college at 22 as not being the age difference, but remembering how to do math like algebra and calculus.

However, he explained that veterans’ experiences and struggles differ from those of traditional college students. Veteran struggles can include missing births, weddings or funerals while deployed for months at a time or losing friends to war – things that many 18-year-olds couldn’t fathom.

“That stuff really sticks with us. When we come here thinking everyone had the same experience because that’s what we were used to, and it’s not like that, it almost sometimes feels invalidating,” Vincent shared. “But then you go into the Vet Office, and you start talking to people like, ‘Oh yeah, the same thing happened to me.’”

While it’s not always easy to mesh with younger students when they don’t understand veteran experiences, Vincent added that he’s learned from them despite their differences.

“They really helped me with growing as a person, to where I can be more accepting of myself and others. I didn’t grow up actively being gay, . . . but being here, I’ve been able to really accept myself and explore myself as a person,” he said.

“U.S. News & World Report” ranks the Prescott Campus as #1 for Veterans in the Western Region, and Vincent believes that holds true. He and others ensure that veterans’ needs on campus are heard and fight for them as hard as they can.

“Something that the vets don’t consider when transitioning is you’ll run into people that won’t relate to you and that might not appreciate what you did in the way that you want them to, and that’s okay,” Vincent said. “And I think that’s the hardest part. We get so used to being told all the time, ‘Thank you for your service,’ . . . and sometimes it just becomes numb when you’re out of it and someone’s not telling you, it’s like, ‘What? How come no one is saying anything to me?’”

To address that feeling, he wants veterans and anyone attending college later in life to be proud of what they’ve done. “Just knowing what you did to get here is something you should be proud of. And even if students that are younger might not appreciate it, someone will.”

Advice for Veterans Considering College

“I always tell my vets when they get here that the first couple months or the first year post-separation is probably the funnest, but it’s also the hardest because we’re so used to structure,” Vincent stated.

When searching for a college, he recommends visiting campuses and their veteran offices to see the camaraderie amongst the veterans firsthand, which is vital in aiding the transition into civilian life.

Most importantly, Vincent wants veterans to know that it’s okay to ask for help.

“There will be times where it’s hard, either financially, mentally, if you’re married or if you have kids; it’s hard to be a parent and a student. And it’s okay to ask for help,” he said. “There will be a time where you have some free time, or all those emotions from the military that you didn’t get to really process will come back, and it’ll affect you, and that’s okay.”

Embry-Riddle is dedicated to providing veteran support, as demonstrated in our consistently high rankings for veteran education across campuses.

The Prescott Veterans Office helps veterans on campus connect with others who’ve experienced the same things that they have. All students are welcome to drop by the Student Veterans Resource Center in Building 18 to hang out with the vets and listen in on their “war stories.”