Bronco veterans come to the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) at Cal Poly Pomona not only as students, but as alumni and working professionals as well. They may not have served in the same unit or at the same time, but they bring their individual experiences and find a community that understands exactly what it is like to serve.
For alumni Tahir Davis and John Evans, their time in the military led them to work at the VRC helping other veterans navigate the transition back into civilian life and the workforce.
“Working at the VRC, there was an unspoken job duty to be there for your fellow men and women because you understand the sacrifice that the veteran community puts in,” Davis said. “Being in class with traditional students is not as effective because veterans went out into the world, got to see the ugly and the real world. Veterans might come across a little strongly in their points and a lot of people aren’t able to see that because they haven’t been through it.”
Davis, who still serves in the Coast Guard, transferred to Cal Poly Pomona from Citrus Community College in 2012. His time as a Bronco was interrupted when he received orders in 2014 for active duty in the search and rescue field. However, he continues to feel a strong connection to the university.
Davis was influenced by both his parents to enlist. His father, a police officer in Jamaica for more than 20 years, was disciplined, always keeping the shoes he wore with his uniform shining. His mother had a caring nature, working with elders as a certified nursing assistant.
Despite working 12-hour shifts in the Coast Guard, he was determined to finish his bachelor’s degree, which he completed online at Pennsylvania State University. When he wasn’t studying, he was saving people. Davis assisted fellow crew members in rescuing mariners onboard a vessel taking on water during his first search and rescue mission. Then he worked on cases involving the mass migration of Cuban migrants in Florida to keeping drugs out of the United States.
“If my mom is underwater and she is drowning, I want someone to help her — that’s what keeps me going,” Davis said. “How can you not enjoy rescuing people? You’re possibly ensuring the chance for someone to go back home to spend time with family. What’s life if we don’t help each other?”
Both Davis and Evans (’14, business management, human resources) are the first in their family to graduate from college.
Evans wanted to be independent at 18 and was working full time at night while finishing high school in the day. Struggling to maintain this balance and continuing to repair a broken-down car, his best friend from the Navy visited and told him how the Navy had changed his life — he was learning valuable skills, seeing the world, and could go to college and one day retire. Evans realized that he had to make a change. Two weeks later he enlisted in the Navy, where he served for eight years.
He was able to accomplish all the things his friend told him about as an avionics technician, including fulfilling several lifelong dreams such as flying a plane. Toward the end of his eighth year, however, he realized that he had not yet earned his college degree. Instead of continuing back-to-back deployments to war zones, he decided not to renew his contract and go to college.
“Compared to struggling to pay the bills, keeping my car running and not sleeping — on top of not even being able to dream of affording to go to college — I saw joining the Navy as an opportunity to live my dreams,” Evans said. “After serving, I wanted to take that next step and earn my degree. I asked myself, where is my heart, what do I love, and what can I do to help and serve?”
Evans changed his major five times at Norco Community College before he decided to transfer to Cal Poly Pomona in 2012. His turning point came while working at the community college’s VRC. A student veteran was lost when it came to navigating his benefits for college and accessing mental health resources. Evans sat down in front of a computer with the student and they went through the steps together. They stayed connected and talked almost every day. Evans says that if he weren’t there to provide that ear and support, the student would have most likely given up altogether or taken longer to complete school.
At Cal Poly Pomona, Evans went straight to the VRC when it only had a piece of paper on the door for signage, and he offered his perspective to help build the center. At the same time, he joined the National Society of Leadership and Success where he learned to be more confident in public speaking, networking, volunteering and interacting with others. He is now a human resources manager at Vulcan — the same company where both his dad and brother work as truck drivers.
“I feel like I’m changing people’s lives, and I can have a significant impact and give back in such a huge way,” Evans said. “Serving in the Navy helped me to work with different personalities, and I grew to become a leader and learned how to motivate my team. People are motivated by different things. And at Cal Poly Pomona, there were a lot of hands-on opportunities while working with people with different opinions, but yet we still continued to work as a team.”
Davis can relate to helping his Bronco team, and even though he earned his degree at a different university, he says he is a “Bronco at heart.” He continues to connect with the center by providing tours to current students at the Coast Guard base in San Pedro, and by taking part in speaker events on campus, including the VRC’s recent 10th anniversary celebration. He continues to serve in the Coast Guard because it offers a way for him to honor his community.
“All of these sacrifices that were made by people, whether fighting racism or sacrificing their lives in the line of duty to make the world a better place — all of these sacrifices put us where we are today,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t be talking to you if certain things didn’t happen. I believe that everybody has a duty to serve in some capacity to make the world a better place because of the sacrifices that were made.”