By Janese Heavin
After serving in the U.S. Army, Nilsa Gonzalez ’19 has a new mission: making sure veterans are able to transition from service to civilian life.
As the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Coordinator at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, she helps veterans prepare for employment. That could include connecting them to basic resources such as food and clothing or helping them clean up their resumes and prepare for interviews.
It requires providing the immediate guidance veterans are accustomed to while also making sure they’re prepared for life.
“As veterans, we have been told what to do, where to go and what to wear for most of our careers,” she said. “Transitioning from the military after not having to make a lot of life-changing decisions can bring some overwhelming stress.”
Gonzalez takes a “teach a man to fish” approach. She could write their resumes, she said, but instead she teaches her clients career skills they need to advance and succeed. That includes developing individual plans based on personal needs.
“What I have found is that when you allow veterans to set their own goals, it makes them take ownership and work harder toward achieving those milestones,” she said.
For Gonzalez, that meant going back to school herself.
The Puerto Rico native started college after high school but admits she wasn’t quite ready at the time. Instead, she joined the Army in hopes of finding a new environment and path to success. Her father and grandfather both served in the Army, and in hindsight, she believes it was also her destiny.
In the U.S. Army, Gonzalez worked as a Human Resources specialist and manager. While different than corporate HR, she enjoyed the work and knew helping others succeed was her passion.
She also knew she’d need a degree to complement her experience in her career field. She chose Columbia College-Fort Sill because of the accelerated classes and support on base.
“Columbia is very military-friendly,” Gonzalez said. “I loved that they are right here on the base, and I could go see my counselor anytime I needed anything. The Columbia College-Fort Sill team was always amazing and willing to help.”
In class, she gained a better understanding of benefits, worker’s comp and other nuances unique to human resource management. Specifically, she credits courses in organizational behavior, speech, compensation and benefits for preparing her for her current position.
“I believe that all of my HR and business courses have allowed me to see things not just from the job seeker’s side but from the business side as well,” she said. “That allows me to be able to give the veterans I work with a more realistic approach to their job-seeking process.”
Gonzalez is now pursuing a Master of Business Administration in HR Management from Columbia College in hopes of further helping veterans reach their goals.
Ultimately, she wants them to find what she’s found—a dream job.
“A big part of why I love my job is that we are all veterans, so we all have that comradery towards each other, which is great to have in a workplace,” she said. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Gonzalez also hopes she’s showing her daughter the value of education.
“When I was young, my dad once told me education was the only thing that could never be taken away from me,” she said. “I wanted to make sure my daughter saw me doing this—that I was leading by example.”