Natural Born Leader

Student veteran takes his seat at the table

When Gilbert Bernabe sat down at his first CSUMB Student Veteran Organization (SVO) meeting in 2016, he was the newest face in the room.

As a new transfer student from Hartnell College and unfamiliar with the seating arrangements around the table, he sat down in the first vacant seat he found. Little did he know, that vacant seat was reserved for the SVO president, and nobody currently held the position.

By the end of his first meeting, that seat was his and it still is two years later.

A desire to help others

It should come as no shock that Bernabe could show up and become president of the SVO on his first day. His desire to help others is evident when you meet him and he brings a wealth of experience working within the local veteran community of Monterey County.

“While I was at Hartnell, I was involved in the student veteran organization, too, the Hartnell Veterans Club, and I served in every position from secretary to treasurer to vice president and president,” Bernabe said.

Student veteran Gilbert Bernabe

Photo by: Blake Stocker

Bernabe spent seven years working locally before joining the Army.

Bernabe was born and raised in Salinas. After high school, he spent seven years working locally before joining the Army. While on active duty he served in a variety of positions ranging from human resources to tank crewman, and finally as a combat engineer. After he ended his active duty, he went on to serve four more years in the California Army National Guard.

Military to civilian

Transitioning from the military to a civilian or academic setting poses a set of challenges unlike those facing most students. While in the military, someone is always giving you direction. You’re told when to eat and when to sleep and how to fold your clothes. In college, there is much more independence and self-reliance. Finding a network of people who share your experiences is one of the best ways to overcome those new, often underestimated, challenges.

Bernabe credits the Hartnell Veterans Club for helping him with that transition.

“When I was a new student at Hartnell, the veterans club really helped me. I feel like I may not have graduated community college if I didn’t have that network. And now I get to do the same here and help other new students navigate college.”

We wanted to expand beyond just the student- veteran communities and get everyone in the community involved.
Gilbert Bernabe

Through that experience, he realized that he wanted to be involved in helping others in the community. He started a nonprofit organization in 2015 called the California Veterans Club, which aims to help all of the local veteran organizations collaborate with each other and take advantage of the resources that are available to their members.

“We wanted to expand beyond just the student- veteran communities and get everyone in the community involved,” he said. “My good friend who started the California Veterans Club with me just started class at CSUMB this semester. I think he could be the next SVO president as he is very involved in the veteran community too.”

Major improvements

In Bernabe’s two years at CSUMB he has seen some major improvements to the veterans center and also the increased activity of the club. In spring 2017, the Veterans Resource Center at CSUMB received a new refurbished space thanks to a generous donation by The Home Depot Foundation.

While he credits Giselle Young, CSUMB’s veteran services coordinator, with doing most of the work to secure the grant, Bernabe worked with the Salinas Home Depot to help pick out new carpeting, furniture and other items to refurbish their space.

“This new space really is all thanks to the work of Giselle and the sponsors for making the resource center feel as welcoming as it does now,” he said. “There are definitely more people hanging out and studying in here. We spend a lot of time in here and help each other study or just hang out and eat lunch. I’d really encourage more students to stop by.”

A great experience

“It has been a great experience and really rewarding to see our student-veteran community expand here and see the resource center be remodeled. I will miss it, but I know the next president will do great and I won’t be far away.”

Bernabe is set to graduate in Fall 2018 with a degree in business and a concentration in marketing. He says he’s keeping an open mind and keeping his options open for what comes next.