Portraits of Courage

The Veterans Resource Center is proud to showcase Portraits of Courage, highlighting the stories of current and past Cal State LA student veterans who have served our nation with honor and distinction. Each month, we will introduce a new honoree.

A person in a military uniform standing proudly in front of the American flag.

Juan Venegas

Juan Venegas was born in Mexicali, Mexico, and moved to El Centro, California in second grade. He graduated from high school in 2014 and shortly after enlisted in the United States Army in the 11 Bravo infantry unit. He also qualified for airborne training where he received his airborne wings. He attended basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and proceeded to be stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he served for four years. After the army, Juan attended Fullerton Community College where he received his associate degree in English. At the moment, he is a senior at Cal State LA, working towards his Bachelor’s in English. Juan’s lifelong dream is to write a novel and be a part-time DJ. 





A person wearing graduation regalia and a Cal State LA baseball cap.

Crispin Nuñez

Crispin Nuñez was born and raised in Compton. He attended school in Watts from first grade through high school, graduating in 1990. Shortly after, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He attended basic training at Fort Jackson S.C., and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Crispin served a total of four years in Field Artillery as a Fire Direction Specialist (M.O.S. - 13 Echo) at Fort Riley, Kansas, and did one tour in Desert Storm in 1991. 

After the military, he attended Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, and received his Associate in General Education in 1999. He moved back to California and took a sabbatical from school and worked in the telecommunication (phone and data services) industry as a customer service representative, premier account manager, project engineer, and senior sales executive at TelePacific Communications Corporation. 

He when back to school at California State University, Los Angeles to pursue his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an option in Entrepreneurship. Crispin graduated with his Bachelor of Science in fall 2020 and received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in spring 2022. He is looking to continue his career in telecommunication in upper management.





male smiling. Polo shirt.

Diego Rodriguez

Diego grew up in El Sereno, CA, and moved to the San Fernando Valley, where he graduated high school in 2014. He then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and began training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in 2014. After supply school specialty training in 2015, Diego was stationed with the 2nd Supply Battalion’s Supply Management Unit (SMU) at Camp Lejeune, NC. During his enlistment, Diego was temporally attached to Combat Logistic Battalion 25 in 2016, where he served upon the USS Bataan in preparation for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. After he spent time in Norway attached to Combat Logistic Regiment 25, where he participated in NATO’s Exercise Cold Response 16, learning cold weather and mountain training. Diego served four years as a 3043 Supply Administration Specialist, where he achieved the rank of corporal.

Completing his service in 2018, Diego returned to California and enrolled in Pasadena City College (PCC). After graduating from PCC in 2020 with an associate degree in science, Diego transferred to Cal State LA to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus on supply chain management. He is on track to graduate fall of 2022 and plans to continue his education at Cal State LA to earn his MBA.





Soldier smiling

Paul Ramirez

Paul was born and raised in El Sereno, Ca. He served in the US Army from 2001 to 2005 as a Combat Infantryman, Paratrooper, and later became a Bomb Technician. Paul received the Horatio Alger Military Scholarship Award from Ambassador George Argyros while at Chapman University and spent two years in China studying Chinese. He attended Peking University's advanced Chinese language immersion program (2010-2011) in their Classical Studies Department studying China's classical military text and Chinese Strategic Culture. After graduating from Peking's immersion program, he attended Tsinghua University from 2011 to 2012.  Paul transferred to Cal State LA from Chapman in the spring of 2020 and will be graduating with an undergraduate degree in Chinese Language and Literature in spring 2022. 

Already having a degree in Materials Science, Paul began working at NASA/JPL in 2013 as JPL's lead Parachutes and Explosives Quality Engineer for both the INSIGHT lander and the recent Mars 2020 rover. Paul is currently one of NASA's top subject matter expert scientists in parachutes and ordnance systems working on the Commercial Crew Program. He recently published his first Children's STEM book titled "STEM FORCES : Story One" to encourage the importance of STEM learning for children. He resides in San Gabriel with his daughter Noelle and son Ryan.     




Person smiling holding a gaming controller

Ezechiel Lucien

Ezechiel enlisted in the Marine Corps in March of 2009 after dropping out of college with a 1.6 GPA and did his basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Paris Island. He was then stationed in Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after completing his training and then deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in 2011.

He served 5 years in the corps where he attained the rank of sergeant and was honorably discharged in March 2014. He is the third of six children and the only one to serve in the military and the first to become an engineer.

After separation, Ezechiel attended Miramar College, Los Angeles City College (LACC) where he received his associate's degree. He then attended the prestigious California State University, Los Angeles for his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering where he graduated with a 3.5 GPA Cum Laude in 2021. Showing that anything is possible with a little hard work. He is now currently in Cal State LA mechanical engineering master’s program and is also working in the industry as an engineer.


Itzel, wearing a blue shirt standing next to American flag

Itzel Barakat

Itzel Barakat grew up with her family in California and in Central America.  At an early age, she developed a deep passion for photography, music and writing. Itzel served six years in the United States Air Force. She was stationed stateside as well as overseas, where she would forward deploy from Okinawa, Japan in 2007-2008. Itzel served two short tours in Afghanistan, and one tour in South East Asia. After her service, she returned to California where she returned to the federal service as a Wildland Firefighter with the United States Forest Service.

Itzel is currently pursuing her bachelor’s in psychology. She plans on getting a graduate degree in counseling psychology to become a holistic therapist and on pursuing a Doctorate of Psychology focusing on assisting veterans, first responders and other trauma-affected groups.


CJ, wearing a polo shirt

CJ Evans

CJ Evans enlisted in the Marine Corps and landed in basic training in February of 1999 at MCRD Paris Island. Spending nearly a decade as both Active Duty and Active Reserve, she has been stationed at Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton and MCAS Iwakuni, Japan as well as having spent a tour in Iraq in 2007. 

CJ Evans is currently pursuing a BS degree in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Biomedical Engineering after transferring from Los Angeles City College with several AA and AS degrees. Upon graduating in the spring of 2022, CJ plans to continue on with a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering followed by a Ph.D. in the Neurosciences. CJ’s plan is to further the advancement of Brain-Machine Interfaces through the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology for both commercial and medical use, as well as figuring out ways to interface machine technology into the human nervous system for cybernetic based prosthetics. 


Jose, smiling and wearing business suit

Jose Sanchez

Jose grew up in Boyle Heights then moved to Pomona, Ca. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and left for boot camp in July of 1994. After serving 11 years on active duty as a supply and logistics specialist, including a 2003 combat deployment to Iraq and achieving the rank of sergeant, Jose was honorably discharged in August 2005.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from California State University, Fullerton, Jose was hired as the Veterans Benefits Coordinator at Cal State LA in April 2013.  His responsibilities included managing the Veterans Resource Center (VRC), admissions assistance, peer counseling, program development, budget tracking and academic counseling for veterans. While working at the VRC, he began taking classes towards an MBA degree on campus. Jose completed his master’s in Business Administration from Cal State LA in December 2016.

Jose began working for the U.S. Department of Labor in January of 2015 as the Assistant Director for Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS) for California. In his current role, Jose manages DOL programs that assist transitioning service members and veterans in finding employment and careers. These programs include: the Department of Labor Employment Workshop (DOLEW) presented to transitioning service members on military installations as part of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP); Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) in partnership with the states EDD programs; and the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) grants awarded to non-profit organizations to assist homeless veterans find employment

He is also responsible for conducting federal investigations related to the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA). These laws are in place to protect service member’s employment rights against discrimination by their employers.


Janet, wearing her U.S. Navy uniform and smiling.

Janet Bocanegra

Janet Bocanegra is a proud U.S. Navy woman who served as a boatswain’s mate and climbed up the ranks to a second-class enlisted member. Janet is currently receiving Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) services that will prepare her for a career.

“Being a female veteran is empowering and prideful, because we represent a small number of all service members and serving our nation is not a job that everyone enlists to do,” she said. “Every experience in my life has allowed me to look back and feel pride and gratitude to be a female Navy veteran.”

Janet grew up in Los Angeles. She is currently in her second semester at Cal State LA as a transfer student. Janet is working on a bachelor's degree in Urban Learning and a teaching credential for mild to moderate special education. She aspires to be a special education teacher and mentor to other women veterans.


Anthony Martinez, smiling with son, daughter, and wife.

Anthony Martinez

Anthony enlisted in the Marine Corps in December 2007 and began basic training in June 2008 at MCRD San Diego, CA. He completed MOS 5803 training as a Military Police Officer in January 2009 in Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and was sent to his first duty station at MCB Camp Pendleton, CA. By October 2009, he was in Afghanistan with Combat Logistics Battalion 1. Before completing his first deployment, he volunteered to redeploy to Afghanistan. After a few short months of being home and training, he redeployed to Afghanistan in October 2010 with Combat Logistics Regiment 15. Anthony returned stateside in April 2011, and transferred to work with the Provost Marshal's Office. He spent his last two years in service as a police officer responding to a wide variety of calls at Camp Pendleton.

Anthony separated from active duty in June 2013 and began attending school at Glendale Community College, where he majored in biology. He transferred to Cal State LA in the fall of 2015 to pursue a B.S. in microbiology and a minor in forensic science. Anthony completed his programs in the spring of 2019 and began his graduate program in criminalistics in fall 2019 with a projected graduation of spring 2021. Anthony’s dream career is to work as a criminalist, collecting evidence from crime scenes and analyzing it in the laboratory.


Dalilia Minter, smiling

Dalila Minter

Dalila enlisted in the military upon graduating high school, shortly after 9/11.

“My country and my values were under attack. The armed forces allowed me to serve the United States for a higher purpose,” she said.

Dalila served in the U.S. Navy for five years aboard the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Carol Vinson. During her two deployments to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, she transitioned from a Pollywog to a Shellback.

In 2007, she was honorably discharged and started her educational journey at Pasadena City College. A parent with three children, Dalila graduated with an associate’s degree in behavioral science in 2017.

Her quest continued at Cal State LA in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in law and society.

“As a student veteran, mother, wife, and business owner, this was no easy task. I had to sacrifice my time, energy, and effort. However, the blood, sweat, and tears were worth the return,” she said.

She graduated in spring 2020 and is now proud alumni with plans to go to law school.


Brett Hernandez, shaved head, full beard

Brett Hernandez
Brett served in the United States Navy for 8 ½ years. Stationed in San Diego, Japan and the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, Brett has completed several deployments throughout Southeast Asia on board the aircraft carriers USS Kitty Hawk and USS George Washington.

In 2011, he was honorably discharged and began his pursuit in higher education, aspiring to work in the entertainment industry. To date, Brett has obtained a certificate in Video Production & Digital Media, Associate of Art in Journalism and he is currently completing his Bachelor of Arts in Television, Film & Media Studies at Cal State LA. He is on track to graduate in fall 2020.