Osvaldo Torres is helping military veterans thrive at Cuyamaca College.
A counselor who works closely with veterans and their dependents enrolled at the Rancho San Diego campus, Torres has found his forte guiding former service members as they navigate through the seemingly byzantine regulations relating to the educational benefits of the GI Bill and helping them develop and stay true to an education plan.
“He has been exceptionally helpful to us,” said Army veteran Allan Estrada, who graduated from Cuyamaca College in the spring of 2016, transferred to San Diego State the following fall, and who will be earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology this December. “He’s there for the veterans all the time, he looks out for your long-term goals and he does what he can to see that you meet them.”
Torres, who was born in Indio and raised in the Coachella Valley, worked as an adjunct counselor at Cuyamaca, Miramar, Southwestern and City colleges before being hired full time as a Cuyamaca counselor and assistant professor in the fall of 2013. About half of his time is spent working with the general student population. The other half is spent working with veterans pursuing their education.
“It’s different working with the veteran population because you’ll see a student quite a bit, you’ll build a relationship with them, and it’s wonderful to watch them progress and overcome whatever challenges they have been facing in transitioning back to civilian life,” Torres said.
Veterans receiving benefits through the GI Bill are limited to three years of funding, and only classes that are necessary to earn a degree are paid for. Universities that tweak their admission requirements for students transferring from a community college can make matters even more complicated.
“You have to stay on top of things,” Torres said.
Torres hadn’t planned on becoming a counselor after graduating from Coachella Valley High School, but his career path was set while working as a peer mentor while attending UC Riverside.
“I really enjoyed helping people,” he said.
Upon earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2002, Torres attended San Diego State University to secure his master’s degree in counseling through the Marriage and Family Therapy program. At one point, Torres was working with at-risk youth through a mental health services program in Escondido, but opted to concentrate on serving community college students instead.
Nicole Jones, Dean of Counseling Services at Cuyamaca College, was impressed with Osvaldo from the start. “Upon meeting Osvaldo, I knew he had great potential to work with the veteran students and would be an excellent counselor for the program,” she said. “Over the last four years, Osvaldo has been an advocate and mentor for our veterans and is admired for his passionate approach to making sure all students achieve their educational goals.”
“Your first year as a student coming out of the military can be challenging,” he said. “Getting an educational plan set so that it complies with the requirements of the GI Bill can be difficult. But Osvaldo does a great job to keep you on track. You could definitely say he’s helping to keep veterans in school.”
Torres wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The reward for me is getting phone calls and emails from students, some of whom you’ve worked with for two or three years, and you hear they just got accepted to a university or have embarked on a new career.”