Otis College Veteran Students Justus Anderson, left, and Saul Ceniceros

Saul Ceniceros and Justus Anderson lean into their experience in the military to get through creative challenges.

By Anna Raya

How many of us thank veterans for their service in passing—at the airport, the grocery store, or even Starbucks? We encounter veterans all the time, and while the reverence we hold for their contributions to our country is greatly deserved, how often do we actually get to know them beyond the polite pleasantries? Some of us have veterans in our families, and may know personally the sacrifices that are made for this country by those who have served in its armed forces. But imagine having a veteran sitting next to you in class, or collaborating with you on a project, and maybe not even knowing it? 

Veteran students and staff at Otis College.Such is the nature of the veterans program at Otis College, one that is valued as much for the richness it allows our veteran students to bring to the classroom as it is for the opportunities the College offers them for life after the military. Transitioning to the civilian classroom has rarely been characterized as easy. In fact, several veterans we have spoken with in the past have described how bootcamp prepared them for the long hours and tough creative challenges they’ve faced in their studies at Otis. 

This Veterans Day we spoke with two Digital Media students who served in the military, Saul Ceniceros and Justus Anderson. Read on to learn more about their time at Otis and what they hope to pursue when they graduate. And while we’re always sure to celebrate and thank our veteran students on this special day, let’s remember to express our gratitude every day for their unique contributions to our appreciative community. 

Saul Ceniceros, ’24 Digital Media | San Antonio, Texas | United States Air Force

Otis College veteran student Saul CenicerosDid you do anything related to art and design while serving in the military? 

No, I have actually never been inclined to do anything related to art until I made my decision to get out of the military.

Why did you choose to pursue your degree at Otis? 

My main art medium is digital 3D, and Otis was one of the few schools I was considering that had any form of exposure to 3D in the curriculum.

Are you attending Otis through any of the programs offered here, such as Yellow Ribbon or the GI Bill?

Yes, I am currently using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program. They were a huge factor in my decision. When I narrowed it down between two schools, the second school had officially stopped accepting the GI Bill, which made my choice much easier.

How would you describe the transition from your time in the military to your life now as an Otis student? 

The transition feels like a long-awaited vacation. Even when we’re under a heavy workload from six to eight classes, it is at least something I enjoy doing and will help in developing my skills.

In what ways has your military background helped you in your studies? 

I think just in general from being in the military, my time management skills and ability to work under a lot of pressure and stress has helped in being able to keep on track with all of my assignments and classes without getting overwhelmed and with very few all-nighters.

Have there been any learning/creative challenges you’ve had to overcome? 

Definitely! Until I decided to go to art school I had never taken any art classes. My drawing skills were non-existent, and since the only medium I learned prior to attending Otis was 3D, the first two years of my degree involved all 2D digital and traditional art. It was quite rough. I kind of just had to suck it up and learn because it was important as an artist, and I would practice 3D on my own on top of my normal class schedule to make sure I could continue pushing my skills further. 

In what ways do you feel Otis has helped with your sense of belonging at the College? 

Having the veteran student meetings with [Assistant Dean of Student Affairs] Dr. Carol [Branch] has helped a lot since there are not many of us at the school. It is nice to get to know and interact with others that understand and share similar experiences.

What advice would you share with other veteran students at Otis? 

Some advice for other veteran students would be to approach school how we got through basic/bootcamp: Take it one day at a time with the end goal in mind, and before you know it you’ll be that much closer to finishing.

What do you hope to do when you graduate? 

My dream job is to become a technical director one day, and, for a short term after graduating, to be a 3D generalist or FX artist for either games or films.

Justus Anderson, ’24 Digital Media | Tacoma, Washington | United States Navy 

Otis College veteran student Justus AndersonDid you do anything related to art and design while serving in the military?

Not explicitly. I did design a few tattoos for people on my ship, and I also painted superheroes on the capstans in a few of the mooring stations.

Are you attending Otis through any of the veterans programs offered here, such as Yellow Ribbon and the GI Bill? 

I am using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as well as the Yellow Ribbon program. It’s been a blessing to be able to earn my bachelors degree without having to stress about graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

How would you describe the transition from your time in the military to your life now as an Otis student?

It has been a roller coaster of emotions and challenges, from the initial struggle of getting used to the civilian side, to feeling a sense of displacement for being older than about 95% of my classmates and having different expectations on how things are supposed to run. However, I will say that it gets better, and you do eventually adjust naturally and with the help of fellow veterans and staff like Dr. Carol.

In what ways has your military background helped you in your studies?

While I’ve always struggled in school and had my share of shortcomings in academics, the military has given me a resilience that has made the many sleepless nights and burnout that inevitably come a lot more bearable than they otherwise would have been.

Have there been any learning/creative challenges you’ve had to overcome?

I’ve had plenty of challenges, many of which stem from being forced out of my comfort zone and having to learn new ways and forms of media.

How would you characterize your interactions with your fellow classmates and instructors? Do you know other veteran students here?

I’m a very personable but low-key guy and more or less get along with everyone I interact with, students and staff alike. I’ve also met a good bit of the veterans here and even have class with a few of them.

In what ways do you feel Otis has helped with your sense of belonging at the College?

I’ll say taking full advantage of the resources, events, and clubs at Otis has been one of the biggest helps during my time here. Honestly, the veteran help and representation are among the best and most competent programs at this school.

What advice would you share with other veteran students at Otis?

I would reiterate taking full advantage of every opportunity you possibly can and never hesitating to reach out for help from anyone, whether that be staff in the veterans program, other veterans, family, and friends—whomever. If you are struggling, don’t fall back on old habits and try and tough it out.

What do you hope to do when you graduate/what’s your dream job?

My current goal is to use my degree as the final piece to my officer package so that I can transfer back into active duty and finish my retirement.

Skies the limit: What’s your dream project?

My dream is to open my own animation studio that allows artists full creative liberty so we can have good shows that don’t get canceled because toy sales aren’t as big as we want, or because ratings tank due to poor or no advertising.

Main image: Veteran students Justus Anderson (left) and Saul Ceniceros at the Veterans Luncheon at Otis College on Thursday, November 9, 2023. Group shot: Staff and students celebrate Veterans Day at Otis College. Both photographs by Kal Kalibinuer, (’23 Fine Art). Photos of Ceniceros and Anderson in their military uniform courtesy of the artists.