Navy Veteran and Mother Liza Vasquez Navigates Toward Social Work Degree at Whittier College

November 8, 2023

Liza VesquezThe path to Whittier College wasn’t always linear or easy for Liza Vasquez.

A single mom to a 7-year-old and a 10-year veteran of the United States Navy is on her way to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work this spring. 

Intrigued by a life at sea, she joined the United States Navy after graduating high school in Anaheim. Vasquez started as a diesel engineer in San Diego, spending five years on an Assault Craft Unit 1. She was deployed mainly to Asian countries like Singapore, India, and South Korea. As time went on, she traveled to places such as Kuwait, Djibouti, Estonia, Greenland, Spain, and Scotland.

But Vasquez’s last deployment, this time on the USS Winston S. Churchill, occurred when her daughter, Stella, was a young toddler. While she reached her 10-year mark and became Machinist's Mate 1st Class, it was tough to be away from Stella, she said. She decided it was time to move on and find a civilian job.

Vasquez worked as a mechanic for International Paper Company, and then for Nestle in Commerce, CA. Yet the environment and the jobs didn’t sit right with her.

“It was not like anything I had expected,” Vasquez, 32, said. “I had been so used to a community of military that I was just thrown back to the woods. And I felt like I couldn’t do it there and it wasn’t the place for me.”

Vasquez realized she had always admired and appreciated school counselors and therapists when she was younger, so she refocused her strengths and priorities and took her love of helping people to the next level: a degree in social work.

In addition to studying, Vasquez is working at Whittier College’s Veteran Resource Center as a liaison for students from Río Hondo College who suffer from housing insecurity. She acts as a peer mentor and also helps out with other issues that may arise like food insecurity or assistance with mental health resources.

The Veteran Resource Center is funded entirely by an annual $50,000 grant from The Ahmanson Foundation. This allows the center to provide a student veteran emergency fund and a child care support program as well as the Ahmanson Veteran Fellowship.

The center has helped Vasquez get in touch with the community, too.

“They’ve really pushed me to connect and step outside of my comfort level to be involved with the school,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez can be found at clubs such as the Social Work Honor Society, the English Honor Society and as the nontraditional student representative on the Associated Students of Whittier College Senate — often with Stella in tow.

“Whittier has amazing, amazing professors,” Vasquez said. “The campus is amazing. Everything that they sold me on actually lived up to it. … I always tell people, like, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

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