Undergrad Gives Fellow Student-Veterans a Helping Hand

By Tom McLaughlin

Since March, Theresa Trujillo has been a familiar and welcoming presence in the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at Rutgers University–Camden. Her fellow student-veterans have routinely relied on her to help initiate their benefits and ensure that their required information is sent to government certifying officials each month.

Trujillo participates in the U.S. Army’s Warrior Leader Course, a month-long course that trains specialists and corporals in leadership fundamentals, in spring 2016.

And that’s not all. Trujillo also helps to coordinate periodic group meetings for student-veterans with representatives from area agencies and organizations that provide resources and benefits for veterans.

As the Pitman resident sees it, she’s just proud to be a part of the exceptional willingness of director Fred Davis and his office team to assist student-veterans in any way possible.

“What he has done for student-veterans is simply amazing,” says the liberal studies major, who is also minoring in sociology. “It’s awesome to see people who actually care that veterans succeed in their academic pursuits, rather than handing them a piece of paper and saying, ‘Good luck.’”

For Trujillo, this level of dedication to serving others is personally nothing new. After all, you can say that she made a career of it.

She recalls that, after graduating from Cyprus High School in Magna, Utah, she thought that she “knew everything about life” and attended the University of Utah to pursue a bachelor’s degree in international relations. A year later, she says, she discovered how much she really did need to learn and joined the U.S. Army Reserve in Salt Lake City.

Over the next three years, Trujillo worked in finance for a local credit union and earned an associate’s degree at nearby Salt Lake Community College, in addition to fulfilling her monthly weekend commitment in the reserve.

Trujillo receives her honorable discharge from the U.S. Army this summer.

Little did she know that her work in finance was just beginning. In April 2013, Trujillo was deployed as a U.S. Army specialist to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. There, she would serve for nine months as a financial management technician, working with local and foreign vendors – such as those providing the goods and services on the base – to ensure that they followed the proper procedures in order to receive payment.

“I was just one of the many worker bees who produced honey for the higher-ups, but it was my first time in-country and I really enjoyed it,” says Trujillo, who notes that she was even named Soldier of the Month during her first month in-country.

In January 2014, Trujillo returned stateside, where she continued serving as a financial service representative. In 2015, she went to Fort Lewis, Wash., helping new soldiers navigate the financial system in order to receive various types of pay. She was then elevated to a higher command at Fort Dix in New Jersey, where she served as a noncommissioned finance officer, tasked with overseeing financial service representatives in 13 states along the East Coast.

“The funny thing is, I was never passionate about finance, but somehow I ended up doing it for nearly a decade,” she says with a laugh.

Trujillo and guest speakers Renee Goddard (center) and Lynn Watson (right) of the Philadelphia V.A. Medical Center

Trujillo adds that she did, however, discover her true career aspiration – and that is to work as a high school history teacher. She remembers that her father would always encourage her and her brother to learn as much about history as they could and, only as she’s gotten older, her dad’s words have become clearer.

“I’ve come to realize that, if we don’t learn about these things, they disappear,” she says. “Now it’s become a passion of mine to learn about American and world history. It’s about learning where we’ve come from and how we’ve evolved.”

Upon being honorably discharged in September 2018, Trujillo began looking around at area colleges. She recalls that, despite checking out other schools, something kept drawing her to Rutgers–Camden and she enrolled there shortly thereafter. She’s been thrilled with her decision ever since.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here,” says Trujillo. “I am not fresh out of high school, so I really appreciate all that Rutgers–Camden has to offer nontraditional students like me, as well as the amazing camaraderie among student-veterans on campus.”

In addition to her studies, Trujillo hopes to gain supplementary experience working with children by serving as a substitute teacher in the area and volunteering for the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden.

“It’s unbelievable to think that I’ll be done soon with this chapter,” says Trujillo, who anticipates graduating in spring 2020. “I look forward to starting the next one.”

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