Student Experience at College of San Mateo
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Student Experience
James Howard
James Howard College of San Mateo, A.A., Social Science

Veterans Outreach Specialist James Howard applies what he learned in classes at CSM to his work for the Department of Veterans Affairs on a daily basis. Equipped with a degree from CSM and major life experiences, James was able to fulfill his career goal of helping his fellow veterans.

Soon after graduating from Aragon High School in 2001, James enrolled at Cañada College; however, within two weeks, his education was promptly disrupted by the events of 9-11. By October 2011, James enlisted in the U.S. Navy and began the first of two tours of duty which would take him to the Asian Pacific and the Persian Gulf. Following his honorable discharge, James decided to put his newly acquired veteran benefits to use and continue his education, this time at College of San Mateo.

With a young family to support, James’s transition back to college was gradual. He started out with the minimum number of units that allowed him to receive his veteran benefits, and as time permitted, he increased his class load until he became a full-time student. “My counselor, Kevin Sinarle, helped me to put together an educational plan and encouraged me to take an extra class each semester so I could finish my degree sooner rather than later.”

According to James, taking classes at CSM opened his eyes to many different subjects, ideas and perspectives. Two subjects that had particular impact were communication studies and ethnic studies. “I took interpersonal communication with Professor George Kramm; he is an excellent teacher and the skills I developed in his class were so practical to the working world.” James eventually took all four course in the program and earned a certificate in communications studies. “From my ethnic studies classes, I learned a great deal about other cultures which has been very helpful in my work with veterans. My professor Frederick Gaines was very supportive and encouraged us to achieve at the highest level of our ability.” “Those classes have been very helpful to me as an outreach specialist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). My work involves a great deal of public speaking and interpersonal communication with a very diverse veteran’s community.” 

 James was also able to take advantage of CSM’s brand new Veteran’s Resource and Opportunity Center (VROC), a central location for veteran students to congregate, study and relax. “CSM has made the center a welcoming space for veterans to spend time outside the classroom. I would go there to study and use the computers, work on homework assignments or just meet with other veterans. The comfortable atmosphere of the Center allows vets to spend time with others who understand the challenges that we have faced. By spending time in the Center, I also made some very good friends.”

In 2013, James received his associate degree in social science and a certificate in communication studies— making him the first in his family to earn a college degree. Graduation was memorable for James as he and the good friends he met in the Veterans Center walked across the stage together to receive their degrees.

Through his exposure to other veterans at CSM and as a part-time employee for the VA at the Peninsula Veterans Center, James realized that he wanted to be an advocate for veterans. “I want to continue to work with veterans to make sure they are using their benefits.”  As part of his outreach work for the VA, James has returned to CSM on a weekly basis to meet with veteran students in the VROC. 

"Attending CSM was a really good experience. I liked my professors, received good counseling and found helpful resources that supported and guided my education. And, I found a job I love that allows me to use what I learned at CSM. I realized my passion is to help out my fellow veterans."