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Nathaniel Donnelly spent eight years in the Marines, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan and completing a Marine Corps Security Training program before moving on to the next chapter of his life. In 2006, he began studying international studies and conflict resolution at San Diego State University.

When his military benefits ran out and he needed to find a job in order to continue his education, Donnelly went to the SDSU Veteran's Center. Now, as the center's assistant veterans coordinator, he helps other military students get the benefits they need and deserve, advocates for veteran's rights and works toward making veterans and active-duty military an integral part of the SDSU community.

"There's an influx of combat veterans coming out of the military, and we're giving them an opportunity to get educated," Donnelly said. "It's going to provide a very large and educated workforce in the future."

Estimates indicate that the number of veterans in this country will rise to more than 375,000 in 2009. Many of them, who originally joined the military as a path to education, had that dream delayed or derailed by their service in foreign wars.

The California State University system, led by San Diego State, is ensuring that soldiers have the opportunity to realize their dreams by providing numerous programs for veterans and active-duty military. Troops to College was created by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to attract veterans to California's public universities and colleges by making campuses more veteran-friendly. The initiative was designed to showcase the full range of curriculums and services available to veterans.

Our veterans know that the university
is behind them and they know that people
are really caring and appreciating their service.

Taking that as its cue, SDSU last year opened its new Veterans Center, where military students and their dependants can go for assistance with finances, learn about new programs, and join the university's Student Veteran Organization.

From special admissions to new certificate programs, SDSU president Stephen L. Weber has encouraged everyone at the university to look for ways to express gratitude to the men and women of the armed forces who have sacrificed so much for the country.

"President Weber has been incredibly supportive of our efforts," said Joan Putnam, SDSU's veterans coordinator. "Anything we've wanted to do, really, he's gotten behind and helped us push things forward.

"This job, and what I do here, has been life changing," Putnam added. "Our veterans know that the university is behind them and they know that people are really caring and appreciating their service."

More than 800 veterans are enrolled in SDSU programs ranging from criminal justice, electrical engineering and psychology to business administration, physical education/kinesiology and international studies and conflict resolution. Additionally, there are more than 130 active-duty military students and approximately 140 dependants of veterans receiving benefits at SDSU.

But while most Troops to College programs focus on undergraduate work, SDSU is also looking for ways to help those who have already earned their bachelor's degrees. This year SDSU, along with CSU San Marcos and Military Education Services, is launching a first-of-its-kind online professional graduate program tailored for veterans and active-duty military interested in high-paying, high-demand jobs in science and technology. 

The professional science master's and certificate programs will draw on the technical expertise developed by these men and women through their jobs in the nation's technically advanced military service. The program will be offered online, allowing flexibility for veterans and active- duty military stationed around the world. 

SDSU's ability to serve the military has been strengthened by the support of the community. Last year the Wal-Mart Foundation awarded SDSU a $100,000 grant to support its student veterans and the Troops to College Program.  And the San Diego Military Advisory Council recognized SDSU with its Annual Achievement Award for excellence in serving and supporting San Diego's local veterans.

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