As the Civilian Assistant Director of Veterans Affairs and Commuter Programs, Jay Derrico has earned the respect of CSU Channel Islands’ military veterans by doing what comes naturally to him: listening and caring.

He draws on his background as a former college counselor and church pastor to help CSU Channel Islands' 115 student veterans and their 150 dependents navigate veterans’ benefits, deployments and paperwork and adapt to college and civilian life.

“We’re all thankful to have someone like Jay Derrico at CI,” says William Vaughn, a 2015 graduate, Navy veteran and president of the Student Veterans Organization. “His dedication to our veterans goes well beyond anyone else I have ever seen. It’s people like Jay who help our veteran population transition into the university lifestyle and obtain our ultimate goals in graduation.”

Derrico came to CSU Channel Islands as a career counselor in 2007. After being asked to start the campus Veterans Resource Center in 2011, Derrico set out to create a place where veterans would feel at home. He interviewed the school's veteran population, researched issues faced by veterans in university settings, and adopted practices from the nation’s best veterans' sesource centers. “The most important thing was building trust so veterans would see the center as a place where they’d find the answers and resources they needed,” states Derrico. “My philosophy is to deal with the whole person and not just the student. I see my role as helping them achieve positive change and reach their goals, whether in their personal lives, academic lives, or their lives after college.”

Partnering with Career Development Services and the Henry “Hank” L. Lacayo Institute, Derrico developed an internship program matching student veterans with employers for paid internships that often lead to jobs. He helped launch the annual Medallion Ceremony, where graduating veterans are honored by President Rush, the CSU Channel Islands community, members of Congress, and military and local dignitaries. He also runs a mentoring program, organizes career development workshops, serves as advisor to the Student Veterans Organization, conducts outreach at community colleges, hosts a week-long series of events for Veterans Day, and invites the campus community to the Veterans Resource Center for cake and ice cream on military anniversaries. His most recent efforts include creating a scholarship for veterans and pursuing grants to fund more internship programs and staff to serve veterans.

Derrico’s dedication has helped CSU Channel Islands earn national recognition five years in a row as a “Military-friendly School.” It also earned Derrico a 2014 Maximus Award, an honor awarded to one outstanding staff member each year by students.

“It’s not just a 9-to-5 job for Jay. He genuinely cares about the well-being and success of every student,” says 2014 CSU Channel Islands graduate and U.S. Marine veteran Mark Scott. “Jay went out of his way to find me an internship with a veteran-friendly employer matching my career goals. You could say it changed the course of my career because I am a full-time employee at the same place two years later.”

“One of the privileges of my job is seeing people grow,” Derrico says. “It’s not advising. It’s more about listening and bringing the answer out of them instead of telling and suggesting things.” Above all, Derrico enjoys working one-on-one with students, counseling them over coffee, joining them on Student Veterans Organization hikes, or providing an on-campus sanctuary where they can study and socialize.