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Serving the Mustangs that Marched

Photo courtesy Cal Poly University Archives.
Major Gus Gibson, a returning G.I., signs up for classes at Cal Poly in the company of his wife and child.

This year U.S. News and World Report named Cal Poly the 10th most veteran-friendly university in the western U.S. The news comes as the university launches a new center to support veterans and their families. The Veterans Success Center respects and honors veterans’ experience and service while easing their transition into university life and providing support mechanisms that create a welcoming campus environment.

It’s the latest part of a long tradition of service to veterans at Cal Poly — a tradition that began with those returning from the battlefields of World War I. Many of those soldiers enrolled in the school’s two-year vocational program. Some were former Cal Poly students returning to complete studies interrupted by the war. Others were attracted by the rehabilitation and vocational program for disabled veterans sponsored by the Federal Board of Vocational Education. The federal program was a notable success, serving a diverse student population.

But no moment in history transformed Cal Poly as much as World War II, when more than 4,700 men trained at Cal Poly for the Navy’s aviation program. Following the war, the opportunities afforded by the new G.I. Bill furthered that sea change. Enrollment swelled from 800 at the end of the war in 1945 to 3,000 at the end of the decade. Veterans accounted for 80 percent of the student body, a ratio higher than the national average and one that declined only slightly in the following years.

With the rapid increase in students and the demographics of a veteran student body, Cal Poly launched the Student Welfare Committee to help these new students  benefit from a community of support. Chaired by future Cal Poly President  Robert Kennedy, this group helped veterans choose majors and adapt to college life. Members of the faculty and staff — often veterans themselves — served as personal and academic advisors.

The new Veterans Success Center will continue these goals, helping veteran students access G.I. Bill benefits and campus resources, get involved in campus leadership, and transition into the civilian workforce. “We’re providing a one-stop shop for our veterans and their dependents at Cal Poly, helping them to be successful students and move into their careers,” said Everette Brooks, the center’s coordinator. “The center is an acknowledgement of  Cal Poly’s rich military history, while helping as many veterans at Cal Poly as possible.”

Do you have a question about Cal Poly history? Submit your question at Explore the archives at Kennedy Library  online or contribute your own story to Cal Poly’s history by emailing

Laura Sorvetti, who researched the historic content for this article, provides reference, outreach and instruction services for Kennedy Library’s Special Collections and Archives.

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