There were many steps on Blas Villalobos’ path to becoming the first director of Chapman University’s new Veterans Resource Center.

After his own military service, Villalobos enrolled in college, a journey that will culminate with a doctorate in social work later this year. And it was no small feat in 2015 when he took over the Office of Veterans Affairs for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, nor as he continues to serve on the Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans, which offers policy advice to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

But Villalobos, an Iraq War veteran, circles back to a classroom insult when he talks about turning points that led him to where he is today. A high school computer science teacher belittled him by alluding to an anti-Mexican slur for crossing the Rio Grande River.

“She asked me to write an article about how I ‘swam across the river,’ which I never did,” Villalobos says.

The insult stung, but determination resulted.

“I figured joining the military would accomplish a number of things. One, I would earn my place. And two, I would give back by contributing to the safety of the country,” he says.

Today he focuses that sense of purpose on his work at Chapman, where he leads efforts to expand the University’s enrollment of veterans and their dependents. For instance, his office assists participants in the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, which partners with colleges and universities willing to offer additional financial aid to veterans and dependents.

Villalobos’ ultimate goal is not to set returning service members apart from other students but to help veterans participate in campus opportunities and launch careers in which their perspective and experience can benefit everyone.

“There are also so many issues we’re dealing with as a community. We need more vets to take on these challenges, and in order to do so, a high-quality education is important,” he says.

Photo/Amanda Galemmo ’20

This story appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Chapman Magazine.