Troops to Engineers helps veterans at SDSU find their way
Jesus Samaniego Sanchez spent five years in the Marine Corps, working as an aircraft support technician. Sammy, as he’s known to friends, said he spent a lot of time fixing planes and getting covered in oil.
As the son of Mexican immigrants, he said serving his country meant a lot to him, because of what America had given him.
“The safety. Being able to go to school. Being able to go out at night without having to worry about anything. I am very thankful for that and I wanted to give back to my country,” Samaniego said.
But he had a second reason for going into the military. That was to find a way to afford college.
“School’s not cheap. So I enlisted to get some of the veterans benefits like the GI Bill, which I’m currently using. So those were the main reasons: To give back to my country and to be able to afford school,” he said.
A kid who grew up in National City, Sammy Samaniego chose to attend San Diego State University and get an engineering degree. There, he found a group of people who wanted to help. It’s called Troops to Engineers.
“This program is essentially a way to help veteran students bridge that gap and overcome those hurdles of transitioning from the military, where they have spent all of their adult lives, into a civilian career," said Joshua Imes, the program manager for Troops to Engineers.
Imes said SDSU has a large military presence. Fourteen percent of the student body, he said, is military connected. Meaning they are veterans, National Guard members or dependents who qualify for veterans benefits.
Focusing on student veterans, he said 90% of them are over the age of 25. Sixty percent of them have families. They are typically going to work while they’re going to school and, having left the military, they are starting a second career.
“Oftentimes these students feel like lone wolves. They are older. They have families. They are not on campus all the time. So for this program to be able to offer a sense of community and be able to bring these students together who have similar experiences, helps them with the learning process,” Imes said.
Troops to Engineers offers some scholarship opportunities for veterans, according to Imes. It connects them with engineering companies like Northrop Grumman, where Samaniego has been interning.
Why steer veterans to a school of engineering? Imes said it’s a growing profession and something veterans, who have worked with technical equipment in the military, can naturally fall into.
Samaniego said becoming an electrical engineer was a natural step for him.
“I liked to fix things,” he said of his time in the Marines. “I like to solve problems. I like to troubleshoot. So what’s going to get me that higher sense of accomplishment? I decided instead of fixing things, why not design them?”
On Veterans Day, 2022, Samaniego added that when making it in the civilian world gets tough, vets should look to their fellow veterans for help.
“I would encourage them to pick up the cell phone and call your brothers and sisters because it’s a beautiful day to be alive today.”