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Student Success Stories

TMCC's VUB program presents success stories from current and past students, in their own words.


Steve Bowen Photo

Steve Bowen, Former VUB Student

Steve Bowen

Oh yeah, I remember this from high school...2q x 8j ÷ 2/3 and then 3.468 all over—wait...what?!

This is what I was thinking while taking the math portion of TMCC’s college placement test for the first time after nine years as a paratrooper.

I went from closing in on the enemy in mid-2002 in the Middle East and jumping out of flying, decently-functioning aircraft, to sitting at a test computer in 2014 trying to remember what the word “congruent” meant and how to “find the unknown length on two similar polygons with corresponding sides.”

Thankfully, Veterans Upward Bound was there to help. Classes and supplies that would usually total in the hundreds to re-learn a subject like this didn’t cost me a single cent. All I had to do was keep coming to class and not quit.

Not only did VUB help me integrate from active duty into the new experience of a college classroom, but the VUB math instructor, Ken, didn’t even bat an eyelid when I couldn’t recall how to do some of the most basic arithmetic problems at the beginning. Instead, he enthusiastically broke everything down into layman’s terms and patiently coached me the whole way through his math class; this experience alone helped me to adjust to full-time academic life. This class reinforced the math skills that had lain dormant in my mind for years—and as a bonus I had picked up easier ways of solving equations that I now use every day. These tools led me to finally passing my developmental-level, summer semester math class after years and years of life getting in the way of my higher education.

By the time this story is featured, I will be taking algebra in the 2015 Fall Semester, followed by pre-calculus in the next all thanks to Veterans Upward Bound. My long-term goals are to transfer from TMCC to the University of Nevada, Reno’s B.A. in Psychology program, and to apply to their Graduate School of Clinical Psychology, so that one day I can help combat veterans just like me.

Thank you, Veterans Upward Bound!


George Njirich Photo

George Njirich, Former VUB Student

George Njirich

I served in the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1968, U.S. Naval Reserve from 1968 to 1972, and the U.S. Navy from 1972 to 1981. I am a Vietnam Vet, served aboard destroyers, air craft carriers and submarines; my rank was MM1(SS).

I was injured on the job in 2003 when I fell from a flatbed trailer and broke my left hip which interfered with my ability to continue as a truck driver. Vocational Rehab paid for my continued education I started at TMCC to become a computer repair technician. I'm weak in math, so I changed my major to welding and got an associate degree.

Unfortunately, there is not a big demand for 68-year-old welding apprentices. Since I have been an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 31 years, I decided to change to substance abuse counselor; I think that it's time to give back.

The major benefit I am receiving since I have retired is to keep my mind active. It would be too easy to sit around the house watching TV, playing on the computer and stagnate. That is no way for me to live. Veterans Upward Bound was a big help to me in math tutoring because they were able to work with me one on one, which was very helpful in order to get my AA degree.

I have to go on and get a BA degree in social work at UNR.


Caleb Harris Photo

Caleb Harris, Former VUB Student

Caleb Harris

I served in the United States Marine Corps from 1994-1998. I was stationed at 29 Palms with 3rd LAR BN, deployed to southwest Asia in 1995, and spent 6 months on the “rock” otherwise known as Okinawa. A service-connected back injury requiring surgery forced me to reevaluate my lifestyle and employment in 2004/2005.

It was during this time that I was luckily introduced to the Veterans Upward Bound program as I began my transition into college at TMCC.

This program helped me navigate and better understand the college system, as well as what benefits, grants, or other assistance was available to me. They explained what classes I should take for my goals, a task that otherwise felt completely overwhelming. They even helped me transfer useable credits from my military experience.

At TMCC I earned a transferable (a term VUB taught me) associate degree.

I graduated in 2009 from UNR with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and a minor in political science. I was able to maintain an overall GPA of 3.7. I attribute my success to the fantastic colleges we have, TMCC and UNR, as well as the resources such as Veterans Upward Bound.

Today, I lobby during Nevada legislative sessions and advocate on behalf of veterans. I have had the opportunity to work with government agencies on nearly every level and scope within our state.


Derek Hughes Photo

Derek Hughes, Former VUB Student

Derek Hughes

Starting your college career can seem like a giant and scary undertaking. I found myself asking the basic question posed by anyone going to college for the first time: “where do I even begin?”

The first thing I did was call TMCC, where I was put in touch with Veterans Upward Bound. So I called VUB, and as soon as the person on the other end picked up I franticly began to ask questions. I found myself in a state of panic, not too different from what I encountered when I exited the military, because it was only about ten days before the semester began. The representative told me to come down and we could work everything out in time to meet the deadline.

My college journey began four years after I returned from my second tour in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division. It started in the Veterans Upward Bound office where I met with an amazing academic counselor who walked me through all the paperwork, financial aid process, and initial college placement tests.

The program helped me decide on an academic degree path and helped me pick the correct courses to get started. There is no way that I could have figured all of the protocols and have met the deadlines on my own.

As an Iraq war veteran going to college for the first time, it was very difficult for me and overwhelming at first. The Veterans Upward Bound program helped me overcome my fears and build confidence in myself that I could handle college. I know that without the help of the VUB program I would not have been as successful during the critical first semester at TMCC.

I have since transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno where I am finishing up my bachelor’s degree and plan to obtain my master’s degree in Educational Leadership. I encourage all veterans I meet who are considering starting college to relax, because there is a solid program in place to help prepare them for academic success at the community college level.

Derek is currently a senior at UNR pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Secondary Education with an ESL endorsement.


Reden Guerrero Photo

Reden Guerrero, Former VUB Student

Reden Guerrero

There are few things in life I’m passionate about, and education is one of them. Achieving my college degree is more than just a personal goal. I believe it is a key to a better future and a better me.

Although I was faced with a few obstacles on the way, the Veterans Upward Bound Program helped me and made their resources available for me so I could reach my goal a lot easier. I truly believe I would not have made it if it was not for them.

I thank God for the chance of a life after three deployments as a light infantryman.

And I thank the Veterans Upward Bound Program for the chance of a life in academics.


Huber Moreno Photo

Huber Moreno, Former VUB Student

Huber Moreno

I served in the United States Air Force for six years as a Communication/Navigation maintenance specialist on special operations C-130 aircraft at Kirtland A.F.B., Albuquerque, NM.

While in the military, I had the opportunity to attend the University of Phoenix to get my general education for my AAS degree in Avionics Technology through the Community College of the Air Force. I was able to finish all general education requirements for my AAS degree two years prior to separating, except for my math.

After the military, I made it my goal to go back to school and complete my education. I decided on TMCC because it is a military-friendly school and I felt that I would be able to get that one on one time with the instructor in a community college that I probably wouldn’t get in a large class environment somewhere else.

I chose an AAS degree in Renewable Energy because I wanted a career in a field that is rapidly expanding and has a promising future in our great state of Nevada.

I found that the Veterans Upward Bound program gave me the confidence to complete my math requirement for my degree when I took the Math II course through VUB and found that it helped me place one math class higher on the ACCUPLACER test than I had placed prior to taking the course, and subsequently help me complete the Math 108 requirement for the Renewable Energy degree.

I am in my final year at TMCC and looking forward to graduation this upcoming Spring.


Nicole Crean Photo

Nicole Crean, Former VUB Student

Nicole Crean

I joined the Navy in 2004 and graduated from Aviation Ordinance A School at the top of my class, advancing to petty officer third class. This training gave me the opportunity for exciting and fast-past work throughout my 6-year career in the Navy, such as working with the Top Gun School on F/18 aircraft and various P-3 commands in the U.S. and overseas in Iraq and Qatar.

I met my husband in the squadron VP-40. My husband is still in the Navy, and when he was picking orders, I asked him to pick Fallon (my first duty station) because I love Nevada. So we moved to Fernley and bought our very first house, where we live with our five-year-old son.

My experience with Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) has been nothing but positive. All the people who work with the group are so welcoming and understanding. I was terrified of the transition from constant work to school, but VUB made the transition seamless.

I didn't believe in myself that I would do well with school, but they all did and that helped so much. It is nice to be surrounded with people who have been through the same type of lifestyle that you have, and I find myself doing a lot of my work at VUB because of the atmosphere. Everyone there is willing to help in any way possible. I appreciate them all more than they will ever know, and I can't say enough great things about everyone of them. I will forever be grateful for all they have done for me personally.

It is nice to be going to school on my own terms and because I want to. I find that being 27 and attending school isn't as intimidating as I would have thought. I want to learn, and I know more about myself and how I learn best. That knowledge has helped me succeed in school. I wasn't sure that the Navy had taught me anything that would help me in school but it did. The Navy has helped me strive for only the best. I am on time, always prepared, and I don't settle for anything less than my best. Seven years ago, I wouldn't be able to say that. I am very thankful for all that TMCC has offered me, and I am taking advantage of all that I can. TMCC is one of the best decisions I have made in my life and I am so proud to say I attend school here.

My future goals are to keep going with school and doing the best I can. I plan on transferring to UNR and majoring in Speech Pathology. I want to work with children and better their lives, either in a school or medical setting because the work is so rewarding. I know that through my experience in the Navy, I am not one to sit at a desk all day. I need to be up and moving around and engaged with others. For now, there is nothing more rewarding than furthering my education so that I can show my son how important school is to succeeding in life.


Bob Harington

Bob Harington, Former VUB Student

Bob Harington

After being out of school for the last six years I was somewhat apprehensive about starting my college career. While researching the numerous schools and vocational programs in the local area I discovered the Veterans Upward Bound Program at TMCC. When I walked in for my appointment with a counselor at VUB, I was greeted warmly by fellow veterans and an exceptional staff of counselors and instructors.

I then took the TMCC ACCUPLACER test, and my suspicions about college were confirmed; it was going to be difficult. I had gotten a low score in both math and English and would have to start my college career in remedial classes.

My VUB counselor, Judy Turner, informed me that this was very common amongst veterans returning to school and recommended that I start attending workshops at VUB.

Over the next few months I attended workshops for math and English twice a week. During this time, VUB gave me every tool that I needed to succeed, including school supplies and gas money. I looked forward to every workshop at VUB. I was continually amazed at the dedication and support given by the staff, and enjoyed being able to socialize with my peers who were going through similar academic struggles.

When I took the ACCUPLACER again, I scored significantly higher in math and was able to start my college career in Math 96 as opposed to 95. Also, I was no longer terrified about the prospect of having to write enormous essays, just mildly annoyed. Most importantly, Veterans Upward Bound gave me the confidence I needed to thrive in an academic environment.

I was born and raised in northern Nevada and went to Galena High School. I joined the Army when I was twenty and was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado with 1/68 Armor Battalion, Third Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division as an infantrymen. I spent five years in the Army and advanced to the rank of Specialist/ E-4. I was deployed to Iraq two times.

I am currently pursuing a transfer degree in general science at TMCC. I intend to study either science or engineering at a university, but I have not decided where yet.

I enjoy anything to do with the outdoors: camping, rock climbing, scuba diving and fishing.

Bob is currently a sophomore at TMCC pursuing an Associate of Science Degree.


Cirila Santillano Photo

Cirila Santillano, Former VUB Student

Cirila Santillano

Deciding not to reenlist in the Army National Guard and quitting my federal job was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. I let go of the security of a great job, retirement and military family. I did it all for the purpose of attending college full time and following my dreams to become a naturopathic doctor.

The first step I took was to contact Veterans Upward Bound. After a few unsuccessful attempts on my part because of conflicting work schedules, VUB accepted my return with support and understanding.

VUB is a great place to start off if you are planning on going to college or need to refresh your English and Math skills. I took all the classes that VUB offered including; English, math, brain power and computer basics classes.

The VUB staff is amazingly supportive, understanding and knowledgeable. Not only do they offer great classes but prepare you for what is expected of you at TMCC or UNR. Because of VUB, the transition into TMCC was smooth and manageable. I can definitely say the tutoring and classes are state of the art, personable and important. Thank you so much VUB staff. I can’t imagine doing so well without you guys.

Cirila is now a sophomore at TMCC pursuing an associate of science degree. Cirila is also an advanced long-distance runner currently training hard for upcoming marathon competitions.


Joe Fabian

When I was in high school, nobody told me I was smart enough to go to college. After going to a one-year tech school, I enlisted into the Air Force. I was an Avionics Instrument Systems Specialist. What I did was fix the dials and gauges in the cockpits of B-52G and B-52H Bombers, KC-135 Stratotankers, F-4E Phantom II Jet Fighters, and the A-10 Warthogs.

Upon separating from the Air Force in 1984, I got a job working for a gas and electric utility company. After holding several different positions, and before massive company reorganization, I quit the company. I was in a dead-end, well-paying job. After settling down, there was finally an opportunity to attend college: Veterans Upward Bound! They said I could go to college, even someone my age with no accredited college experience.

I took both ACCUPLACER exams and did not score well enough to enter college. This did not deter the staff at VUB. They put me in Ken Mela’s Math I class, and the online ALEKS math course.

In the summer of 2010, I gave up and did not participate for about a month and a half. I sheepishly returned to VUB, and the staff encouraged me to start up again.

I attended Ken’s Math II class, Hank Sosnowski’s English II class, Judy Turner’s Computer Basics class, Ken’s Chemistry class and Judy’s Brain Power class. All the classes were beneficial to my successful start at college. The counseling from Susan Thomasson and the various support from Nanci Fowler helped me get over the rough spots. This is the product of Robert Hernandez’s work in putting together a wonderful staff at VUB.

I’m in no hurry to finish college, I just want to take my time and learn as much as I can and enjoy my time in college. I hope to get back into the utility industry, working in the electric parts, substation and transmission voltage lines.