Participant Highlights



As a mother of five, one would think Amber has enough challenges in life, but that has never been the case for her.

It began in 2003 when she took the ASVAB test and scored high enough to pick just about any career option the military had to offer. Though beyond the normal age of most recruits, Amber enlisted in the Army as a combat Medic and began basic training. Though she was older than most of her fellow soldiers, and even some of the drill sergeants, Amber graduated and was sent to Fort Hood, Texas.

Though an unfortunate injury prevented Amber from completing her dream military career, the GI Bill is helping her attain another dream. Amber began school at Salt Lake Community College this past summer, working toward a nursing degree. She is a full-time student in addition to her home responsibilities and a full-time job. Though she has had some struggles, she says “VUB kept me sane,” explaining that the math help has been invaluable to her.

Amber is just five classes away from formally entering the nursing program. Once completing the program at SLCC, Amber plans to attain a Bachelor’s and then Master’s degree. Originally from Idaho, Amber now lives with her family in Salt Lake City, though she hopes to eventually move to Alaska. Amber is married and has three children and two step-children, ranging in age from 5 to 20 years.


Anthony Baza

Anthony Baza, originally from the island of Guam, joined the Army in 2007, immediately after high school graduation. In 2009, he was deployed to Iraq in support of Iraqi Freedom. In 2011, Anthony was promoted to the rank of sergeant and was placed in charge of seven soldiers in his squad. He departed active duty three years ago and transferred to the Utah Army National Guard. The transfer from active duty to part-time has allowed Anthony to pursue his education and to accomplish this goal in a timely manner.

Leaving a well-paid job in the military to become a poor struggling college student was a hard transition to make. Yet Anthony knew it was the right move for him because returning to active duty as an officer means better opportunities and higher pay. Anthony emphasizes: “I knew that in order to have more opportunities in the future, I had to invest in my education.”

Balancing school, work, and military schedule have not been easy. Anthony’s schedule is full and hectic. However, Anthony relies on imagination, faith, and hard work to overcome and break through the hardest obstacles in life. Anthony explains:

“I remember sitting at my security desk in a call center just imagining that one day I will become a therapist in the military. That vision inspired me to keep moving forward, even if success seemed out of reach. That vision uplifted me and I began to have faith that I would graduate even if I was struggling. A year ago I was at SLCC and working as a security guard. Today, I am a counselor working with troubled youth and I will be graduating with my bachelors in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology from Weber State in April 2014.”

Anthony adds that vision and faith are not enough. He had to work hard, too: wake up earlier, be the first one in class, stay at school longer, find a math tutor, and continue to keep trying even if he was failing.

Math was the biggest obstacle Anthony faced in college. He failed two math classes, and there were times he felt like giving up. Even though he studied for many hours, he still fell short of a passing grade. Anthony is grateful for Daniel Kiser, VUB math instructor, and feels that without Daniel’s help it would have been extremely difficult for him to pass his required math classes.

Anthony has made great progress, but he has already set even higher goals. He will begin the Masters of Social Work (MSW) program at the University of Utah this fall. The MSW degree will enable Anthony to obtain a professional license and to practice psychotherapy/counseling in the military upon graduation. Anthony has a deeply personal reason for choosing this path:

“When I was in Iraq, three soldiers in my unit committed suicide. It was disturbing to know that my unit was strong enough to survive a deployment, but not strong enough to overcome mental health issues and avoid losing soldiers to suicide. My goal is to return back to the military as a therapist/counselor to help soldiers get through hard times.”

Anthony is one of many students at VUB who remains committed to helping and supporting fellow veterans and active military members, even as they face great challenges in their personal life. As staff members, it is our honor and pleasure to serve you and witness the camaraderie among our program participants. We wish Anthony the best of luck as he begins this new chapter, and we are confident he will succeed.


Chris Putnam

Chris Putman was born in Ogden and grew up in Kaysville, Utah. He joined the military at 17 and served for 28 years (9 years active duty and 19 years Utah National Guard). Chris spent half of his career in the Army (ending his career as a 97E3L, Interrogator) and the other half in the Air Force (retiring as a 2S072, Supply System Analyst).

College education was an unexpected opportunity. “After being designated a disabled veteran,” Chris explains, “the VA rehab approached me about finishing up a B.S. degree. I wasn't sure that was feasible, money-wise and all, but they made an attractive offer and combined the rehab program with the Post-9/11 GI Bill.” As a result, Chris received a living allowance in addition to having his education expenses covered. A degree in Computer Science was a natural choice for Chris because he has done well in math in the past and worked with programming languages as a 2S072 in the Air Force.

However, obtaining a degree was a challenge in many ways. There was the all-too-familiar juggling of work, school, and social life. Computer Science can be a difficult field, and Chris took advantage of the resources available to him. He relied on fellow students, lab assistants, and, of course, Veterans Upward Bound. Yulia Goff helped Chris polish his drafts. Tyler was a great help to Chris with one of his core classes.

We would like to congratulate Chris on graduating with his Bachelor degree this summer and on starting his job as a Supply Systems Analyst at Hill Air Force Base earlier this year. Chris says that success requires commitment and effective time management, but, he adds, “It doesn't hurt to have others help you along the way when needed.” It has been our pleasure to help, Chris. Good luck!


David Barney

David Barney has been a regular at our office since the summer of 2012. He enjoys reading, including audiobooks, and has utilized this pastime to bring his writing up to college level. Despite having a full-time job and many hobbies, such as weekend trips on his motorcycle, road trips, trail running, and orienteering, David has demonstrated an impressive level of dedication and academic growth during his time at VUB.

David grew up in the town of Oroville in northern California. He moved to N. Ogden, Utah, when he was 15 and graduated from Weber High School. After joining the Army in 1995, David went to basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, and tech training at Ft. Eustis, VA. He was trained as an AH-64 Armament/Electrical/Avionics repair technician. He was stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY, and Ft. Rucker, AL, serving a total of ten years in the military. Of the many places David has lived, the southern US has been his favorite.

Reflecting on his time in the Army, David says, “The training I received in the military has been invaluable. It has opened up many doors in my life and given me many opportunities to grow. I would definitely do it all over again. I have been fortunate to have picked an excellent career in the Army that has helped me immensely in the private sector.” Yet David has realized that in order to advance further in his field, he needs a degree. “I have loved my time working on aircraft,” he states, “but I would really like to continue my work in aviation in a more specialized capacity, such as being a field service representative. Eventually, I would like to work for big aviation firms such as Boeing, Lockheed, or Northrop. My 5-year goal would be to earn a degree in electronics and work overseas and with our armed forces in Germany or the UK.”

After being a full-time single parent for the last ten years and with his daughter now in college, the time is right for David to continue his education. “It’s easy to convince myself that I have too many things going on. At my age, there is never the ‘perfect’ time to go back to school,” he admits. However, talking to others who work full time while in school and hearing how they overcome challenges has boosted David’s confidence: “You just have to take the plunge and deal with things as they come.”

For a first-timer, college can be intimidating. Veterans Upward Bound has helped David by “demystifying” college and supporting him. “Knowing that there are people available to help me attend school successfully has been a big boost in confidence. They are always willing to go the extra mile to help me posture myself for success. I would recommend that all veterans utilize this service.”


Don Benally

Don Benally grew up in Forest Lake, Arizona. He was one of seven children, five sisters, and a brother. Don joined a National Guard unit as a senior in high school. Immediately following graduation, he went to boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he trained and became a combat engineer. He served active duty in Desert Storm and also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Don’s military experience lasted 18 years.

Don achieved an Associate’s degree with Anthem College in Phoenix, AZ, in Computer Electronics and started his own business.

Following an injury, he returned to school and got a second Associates degree from the College of Science at Weber State University. Don says, “It was hard coming back to school.” After having many years in the military and having his own business, maintaining the mind-set for the study was difficult. Yet he has shown remarkable commitment and perseverance and was awarded Veterans Affairs State of Utah scholarship in 2009 and then again in 2013. Each assisted in his studies.

Don just graduated with an Associate’s degree as an LPN in Nursing from the Ogden-Weber Applied Technical College. He plans to continue his education and graduate with a Bachelor’s degree for is RN from Weber State in May 2014. Don says that school has become his hobby over the past several years.

Tutors were extremely important to Don. He appreciates the VUB tutors and the assistance that was available to help him succeed. Don started his studies at the lowest level of math. Jim Shepherd assisted Don in learning and completing all needed math classes through Math 1050. Donna Rigby, former Director at VUB initially helped Don with English. Yulia Goff continues to assist Don with papers and writing projects.

In closing, Don stated, “I would encourage the veterans who plan on going to college to take advantage of the services that Veterans Upward Bound offers. It’s a good start.”



Gary is a Salt Lake Community College student who has been working with Veterans Upward Bound for over a year now. After seven years in the Marines as a mechanic, Gary has spent the last 25 years as part of the Utah Army National Guard.

Supervisor for Apache helicopter maintenance and Command Sergeant Major for the 1st ARB 211th Aviation Battalion, it was challenging initially for Gary to make time for school. But in 2008, Gary decided it was time to pursue a degree. It didn’t take long, however, for Gary to figure out he was going to need some help with school. Many who become students later in life quickly find they need to brush up on basic skills, and Gary was no exception.

His biggest challenge was with math since he first tested below the Math 950 level. Not wanting to have to take developmental math classes, Gary began working with the VUB program to prepare for math. Since he was not in a math class, he had to work through the material on his own, with the help of VUB tutors, until he reached a point where he could test into a higher class.

Personal motivation is necessary for situations like these, and though difficult, Gary persevered. After several months of hard work, Gary tested into Math 1010, which he has just successfully completed. Gary cannot say enough good things about the tutors or Veterans Upward Bound in general. “The program is just outstanding,” explains Gary. “VUB built my self-confidence and set me up for success.”

Gary has just one more class to complete before he receives his Associate degree. He plans to transfer to the University of Utah to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and eventually, after his retirement in about four years, his Master’s degree. Once his schooling is complete, Gary hopes to use his newly earned education, along with his personal and professional experience, to counsel other veterans. Gary is the perfect example of how dedication and hard work can pay off. And he is proving that goals can be achieved, no matter what stage a person is in life. Gary and his wife of 29 years, Lucille, live in Salt Lake City. They have five children and six grandchildren.



Jeff first came to Veterans Upward Bound last spring, looking for a little help in math. Previous experiences with university math tutors had left him feeling confused as teaching styles between tutors varied greatly.

Jeff really appreciates coming to the VUB office for math tutoring now as he only works with one tutor and one teaching style, allowing him to learn and grow as he develops his own personal math style. He especially enjoys the interpersonal interaction he receives at VUB, explaining, “I feel more comfortable here.”

Jeff, originally from Reno, Nevada, spent his military career as a Maintenance Production Manager in the Air Force. Retired after 24 years and having been stationed in New Mexico, Korea, and California, Jeff now calls Utah home after deciding it was a great place to raise a family.

All the years spent as a scheduler in the military has prepared him well for his future career in the health care administration field. Majoring in Health Administrative Services, with an emphasis in Long-Term Care, and minoring in Women’s Studies, Jeff is hoping to create a special niche for himself as a scheduler of health care services for residents of assisted living facilities, either for a non-profit company or in a business of his own.

Though just finishing his third semester at Weber State University, Jeff is already looking forward to next semester and plans to graduate in 2014. Jeff has a 16-year-old son and currently lives in North Ogden.



Joe is a friendly, hard-working WSU student who entered the VUB program this past fall. Joe’s visits to the VUB Office are always anticipated by everyone because of his funny and upbeat nature, and when Joe walks in the door with a smile on his face and excitement in his voice, it is hard to imagine that less than a year ago, he couldn’t even walk.

A Construction Electrician in the Navy CBs for 8 ½ years, Joe likes to joke about how during all his service time he never saw a ship. Joe’s service ended, however, when he was injured in a fall from a telephone pole, but his military experience helped him to hone his skills as an electrician. Following his time in the Navy, Joe went on to become a Master Electrician and worked in that capacity until his previous injury came back to haunt him. There was always a chance that problems related to his back injury could return, but he, of course, hoped for the alternate outcome. Unfortunately last year, his back just finally gave out, and he was forced to not only address his health issues but also find another line of work.

Retraining for a different profession turned out to be the best decision Joe ever made because he is having the time of his life in college. Majoring in Environmental Geology, Joe’s ultimate goal is to return to Italy (where he was stationed for 3 ½ years) to work once he finishes his degree. His major is not an easy one, but Joe works hard at his studies, stating that he “didn’t come to college for Cs,” and strives for at least a B average. Taking advantage of the excellent VUB tutors, Joe has been able to maintain that grade level so far. Joe not only enjoys the services of VUB but also appreciates the camaraderie and friendship he has with other VUB students as well as the office staff.

"I just love everybody here,” explains Joe, noting that he always comes to the VUB office when he has questions because he knows he can trust the answers to be “true and applicable.”

When not in school, Joe spends his limited spare time with his family and a few close friends, enjoying activities like camping and playing a crazy card game called Killer Bunnies. He also coaches his son’s baseball team. Joe has been married to the “love of his life,” Allison, for almost 18 years, and they have two children, Valery, 16, and Liam, 12.


Yandriel Rodriguez

Yandriel “Jimmy” Rodriguez was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, a city which translates as “100 fires” in Spanish. Due to oppression and harassment from the Cuban government, Jimmy’s parents decided to apply at the U.S. embassy in Cuba to come to the United States. After a lengthy process, they were allowed to come to the US. In December 2001, Jimmy (12), his brother (10), and his parents arrived as political refugees. Jimmy was immediately enrolled in middle school and initially had a tough time transitioning. Learning the language was his primary struggle.

After graduating high school, Jimmy joined the Marine Corps at age 18. He did the Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego and afterward was sent to MOS (Military Occupation School). His stationary unit was with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines (or the dark horse battalion as many call it). He was there during his remaining time and was able to deploy overseas with the battalion one time.

Jimmy started his schooling at Salt Lake Community College studying Computer Science (CS). He has always liked computers, and his intrigue with computer problems created enough interest that he wanted to know as much as possible about computers and how they operated. He is now at Weber State University and is additionally pursuing a Math minor because he says he has to take many math classes for his CS major anyway.

Despite initially struggling to learn English and find support for going to college, Jimmy ascribes his positive attitude and commitment to being able to accomplish his goals. By putting school first, he is able to commit as much time as necessary for doing homework and studying. He says this is the best way to overcome anything that might be slowing him down.

He says that life has been a learning experience ever since stepping on American soil. He has been enjoying that experience and knows that he would not have been afforded any of the same experiences in Cuba. He is grateful for his parents bringing him to the US and is also appreciative of Veterans Upward Bound.

He says, “I cannot find words to describe how helpful the Veterans Upward Bound program has been to me. I don’t think I would’ve gotten as far as I am, and as quickly as I have if it wasn’t for them. They have helped me with school work; they have given me advice on school and non-school related problems/choices. It’s just really nice to have someone around to connect to and to listen to you when you need it.”

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