Edmonds Community College has named Chris Szarek the first director of its Veterans Resource Center. He began Sept. 16. The center, which opened in early 2012, assists veterans in navigating enrollment, helps them access educational and financial benefits, and offers other resources while veterans attend college.
Szarek is a 20-year veteran of the Navy Seabees who attended Edmonds CC and graduated
with a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Washington-Bothell.
“Veterans issues have always been near and dear to me,” said Szarek. “Being a veteran myself and, until recently, a veteran student, I’ve been through a lot of things people could find themselves going through. I once had to make the transition between the military and college, and I did so right here at Edmonds Community College.”
In addition to overseeing operations at the center, Szarek works closely with Gloria Elliott, the college’s certifying official and liaison with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Szarek is also active in community outreach to promote the college and in identifying community resources to help veterans both in education and in life.
“The Veterans Resource Center is a huge reason why veterans come here to get a certificate, associate degree, or to get a degree and continue on to a four-year college,” said Szarek. “It’s a combination of the USO (United Service Organizations), a place to gather, study, use the computer lab, and meet other veterans. It’s a network with peer-to-peer mentoring to help with studies and the paperwork process. And we have people ready to help who have gone through what they might be experiencing.”
Szarek also oversees Edmonds CC’s Student Veterans Association, whose president is Engineering and Materials Science Technology student Andrew Smolen. Szarek and Smolen are always interested in helping with community projects. “You could say veterans and hard-wired to serve,” Szarek said.
It was a long road for Szarek and his current position. His Seabee career took him to Guam, Cuba, and Spain (he’s fluent in Spanish). After completing 20 years in the military, he attended Edmonds CC and UW while supporting himself as a campus locksmith at Edmonds CC.
“You could say that opened the door for me to this position,” he said.
Szarek believes veterans like himself often have an edge in college.
“There are many positive attributes to being in the military. You bring to campus a lot of maturity and life experiences. Many veterans find themselves, at a young age, with leadership roles where they’re been responsible for people other than themselves. That makes you grow up in a hurry.”