San Diego, California - This year’s UC San Diego Veteran of the Year recipient, Jan Noz, served her country as a member of the United States Air Force; now, she serves the university as a senior disability specialist in the Office for Students with Disabilities. In this role, Noz helps students including veterans understand and overcome difficult circumstances, so that they can attain their career and educational goals.
While in the military, Noz’s experience focused on managing warehouse inventory, which often included physical work, such as operating a forklift. Once she finished her service in the Air Force, she said she bounced around for a few years taking jobs to earn a paycheck, but had no direction.
“My experience was in a very male-dominated field, so I had trouble finding a job after my service was complete,” Noz said. “I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”
Noz’s experience of having little guidance during her transition out of the military is why the disability specialist is so passionate about what she does now. She feels privileged to have had the opportunity to help many people in transition or seeking a career change, including those with disabilities and students of diverse academic, socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Today, Noz finds her work incredibly satisfying. “It gives me great pleasure to assist people and help them figure out what they want to do with their lives,” she said.
Noz served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1991 and was an active duty service member during Operation Desert Storm. She joined the military to learn job skills, help pay for college and because it is part of her family legacy. Noz is proud to report that her family’s service covers all three branches of the military: her grandfather was in the Army during WWII; her uncle was in the Marines during the Vietnam era; and her husband served in the Navy.
During Operation Desert Storm, Noz worked in logistics at Travis Air Force Base. Like many in the service during that time, Noz often worked 12-hour days. The long days required her to be away from her first son, who was an infant at the time. “It was difficult and did require sacrifice, but it’s what we signed up for,” she said.
After the war, Noz transitioned out of the military and into civilian life––a process which was abrupt. “My transition was pretty rough; it was not easy,” she said. “Things have changed since then, but for me it took place in just one afternoon when my papers were processed.”
Noz added that transitioning out of the military can be difficult because it is a huge lifestyle adjustment. “Most likely, there will be many that do not have a job lined up right away,” she said. “They are not going to be told what to do; they have to seek it out,” she said. “They have to prepare. They have to develop a resume. It’s a very different lifestyle than when you are in the military.”
Although it took years after Noz’s service was complete, she did find direction and a career pathway. A first-generation college graduate, she sought help from mentors, including one teacher she met while attending a California Community College. She later transferred to UC Berkeley and, upon graduation, started working at the campus as an academic advisor to students in the sociology department.
Noz went on to earn a Master of Arts in Counseling with a specialization in career and adult development from the University of San Diego. After graduate school, she began her career first at private companies then at the Department of Veterans Affairs as a vocational rehabilitation and employment counselor. Helping veterans transition into civilian life became a key part of her work. In early 2013, she joined the staff at the UC San Diego Office for Students with Disabilities, where she often works with student veterans and students who are active duty military. As part of her role, she holds weekly office hours at the Student Veterans Resource Center (SVRC).
“It is really helpful for me to be in their space,” she said. “It helps me be present. They can ask questions, and I can build a rapport with them. That way, they don’t have to make an appointment at my office to seek services, as that process can be intimidating.”
She says her career is incredibly satisfying because she gets to serve as a mentor to others, so that they can find their own path in life. Noz does this in a variety of ways. “Sometimes it’s by asking the right questions, and sometimes it’s just listening,” she said. “Often, students are stuck, and I tell them: ‘I understand. I have been stuck before, too.’ ”
Noz said that since the SVRC opened two years ago, she has seen the veteran community thrive at UC San Diego. Not only are veterans involved with the SVRC, but UC San Diego has a lot of active duty military in reserves that frequent the space. In addition, military supporters have gravitated to the center.
Noz is an active member of UC San Diego’s Veterans Association, which is open to all faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members. The organization raises awareness and promotes respect and appreciation for the sacrifices and contributions made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I learned after leaving the military that it’s important to have a community, and being involved with the Veterans Association is certainly beneficial for that very reason,” Noz said. “We’re involved in the UC San Diego community and the surrounding community. We contribute to the diversity of the campus.”
Noz accepted her Veteran of the Year award at the 16th Annual UC San Diego Veterans Staff Association Veteran Recognition Ceremony on Nov. 5 at the UC San Diego Supercomputer Center Auditorium.
“I have an overwhelming, awesome emotion of gratitude,” she said of accepting the award. “It gives me an opportunity to share what my mentors and others have shared with me along my life journey. It also helps me gain an understanding of what is needed and how I can continue to assist others and give back.”