In Review | 6th Annual National Conference: Pioneering Social Change

Posted January 22, 2014

By: Emma Scherer

From January 2-5, 2014, student veterans, VSO leaders, government officials, and higher education stakeholders gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona for SVA’s 6th Annual National Conference. Attendees came for many reasons, the most important being to connect with their brothers and sisters from across the nation.

We hit the ground running with two panels discussing both the current policies and research informing the relationship of student veterans to the nation’s higher education system. After these informative sessions, the first day came to a close with a Welcome Reception; Jim Nier, the former Commander-in-Chief of The Veterans of Foreign Wars, addressed the crowd with words that spoke of the camaraderie veterans share and the fundamental role it plays in building a vibrant national student veteran community.

The next day began with the General Session. General Casey delivered a rousing speech that got the attendees out of their seats, during which he stressed the opportunities afforded them by the events of the coming days. For the veterans that filled the room and classrooms around the country, “education is more than just a piece of parchment, it is about educating the next leaders of America.”

Later that day, SVA’s own led breakout sessions that encouraged discussions on initiating and sustaining change in their communities effectively, collaboratively, and with ingenuity. The Innovative Solutions session highlighted unique and inventive chapter programs designed by student veteran organizations to tackle the challenges they face on campus.

Concurrently, the Sustainable Change and Collaborative Communities sessions focused on tools, resources, and best practices to support chapters’ growth and place in a communal network, in a sustainable manner.

Friday evening’s Professional Networking Reception brought together career-minded student veterans and SVA’s generous partner and sponsored organizations. Representatives were ready with easy conversation and informational material to advise the professional decisions of our servicemembers-turned-scholars. A good evening spent in great company!

The Entrepreneurship and Alumni panels took place the final day. Both brought together former student veterans and veteran entrepreneurs to discuss their transition from degree to career. The importance of networking was highlighted by Derek Blumke, Executive VP of Business Development at HirePurpose: “People will invest in you if they trust you…and one can only go so far alone.” The panels concluded with a single line from Jared Lyon, an SVA alumni and representative of the Institute for Veterans & Military Families, “there is nothing you can’t do, you already have everything you need.”

The Banquet and Awards Ceremony proved a fitting end to a remarkable and memorable event. Kiersten Downs, Air Force veteran and graduate student at the University of South Florida, was named SVA’s Student Veteran of the Year for exemplary leadership. Ms. Downs completed a cross-country bicycle tour in 2013 to raise awareness of the student veteran experience, and funds for SVA. The University of Colorado-Denver was announced as champions of the Second Annual Business Plan Competition with their business strategy and programming praised by our panel of judges.
Maj. Gen. Lehnert took the stage as the final speaker of the conference. He had a simple message – “Graduate!” His remarks closed this year’s event and ensured that student veterans left motivated to positively transform their campus!

Thank you to everyone for making this year’s conference the best yet! We look forward to seeing you all throughout 2014, and in 2015 for the 7th Annual National Conference.