The new coordinator for GW’s Office of Veteran Services knows firsthand the challenge of transitioning from military service member to college student.
After 11 years in the U.S. Army that included deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and peace-keeping missions in Kosovo, Michael Ruybal enrolled at New Mexico State University.
“It was hard,” he said. “I sat in the back of the classroom, loud noises made me flinch and I was constantly checking my surroundings.” He sometimes felt he couldn’t relate to his classmates. “I had experiences the average college student had never had and would never want to have,” he said.
Finding a community of veterans who understood the unique issues he faced was key to his transition to civilian and university life. Mr. Ruybal went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, working as a community assistant while a student. After graduation, he stayed at New Mexico State, serving as resident director of student family housing.
In 2011, Mr. Ruybal took a position as veterans and military personnel student services coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. As coordinator, he worked on PROJECT HERO in which university and community members made more than 1,080 care packages for deployed soldiers. He also organized a “Rucksacks to Backpacks” veterans’ services fair to collect basic school supplies for first-year student veterans.
“Michael brings creativity, energy and dedication to his work with student veterans,” said Andrew Sonn, assistant vice president for student affairs. “His commitment to the student veteran population, higher education and the military will make him an asset to our community.”
Mr. Ruybal said he was first impressed by George Washington after listening to alumni, including former GW Veterans President Brian Hawthorne, B.A. ’11, talk about the university’s commitment to student veterans. When the position at George Washington opened up, he knew it was where he wanted to be.
At GW, Mr. Ruybal hopes to establish a “one-stop shop” for student veterans that can serve as a support center and provide practical assistance on things like financial aid and the Yellow Ribbon Program. He’ll also oversee the university’s myriad activities and programs for veterans, including its orientation for military students and their families and Veterans Day events.
“This is a dream job for me,” said Mr. Ruybal. “I want to help make GW the best environment it can be for student veterans.”