SVA ensuring veterans lead with higher education

Posted December 9, 2013

Veterans pursuing higher education bring invaluable leadership skills, a commitment to service, and an incomparable work-ethic to campuses across the nation. The transition from military to civilian life, however, can be increasingly difficult on a campus seemingly void of peers. At Student Veterans of America (SVA), our dedication to veterans comes from both a deep personal investment and a thorough familiarity with what our country stands to gain from their success. Their achievements are America’s achievements – the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates over one million veterans will be returning from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq; imagine if each one of those entered our workforce with a diploma in-hand. Our domestic economy and middle class would grow exponentially, ensuring our nation’s stability and prosperity for years to come. Our organization seeks to frame this vision both realistically and holistically, understanding that an issue such as this should be addressed not just with the pens of university officials, but also through a dialogue led by student veterans themselves.

The voice of student veterans and their peers, and the weight of common experience, is a powerful force that drives academic success and social reintegration. Knowledge of the indispensable good a friendly handshake and smile from a fellow veteran can do is at the heart of our chapter-based model. These peer-to-peer support networks focus on bolstering and enabling individual chapter organizations to better support one another in achieving their educational goals. Student veteran organizations accomplish this mission through a grassroots, bottom-up approach comprised of a host of unique programs, including peer mentoring, social networking, community engagement, and other advocacy efforts to encourage military-friendly practices on campus.

The social, professional, and academic value of these groups cannot be overstated. Within these chapters, the strength and camaraderie that binds student veterans is stronger than the challenges that stand in their way. Professionalism, tenacity, and a steadfast commitment to one another and a higher moral code are part-and-parcel of the greater undertaking that is military service. These values are second nature to veterans and carry over in their support of one another, leading to projects and programs that successfully raise awareness and catalyze sustainable change on their campus and in their community.

The SVA model of peer-to-peer support would not be nearly as effective without the top-down support exemplified by the GY6 Education Pillar Pledge taking institutions. As an organization, we acknowledge the pivotal role academic institutions play in ensuring the successful transition of our returning servicemembers. Institutionalizing change ensures the sustainability and longevity of military and veteran friendly practices on-campus. The Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions, created by the American Council on Education, states that “campus action must begin with a commitment and be translated in policies and procedures that are mandated by those in power, particularly by the president’s office.” An administration’s commitment is a critical cornerstone in creating an environment in which this unique population can succeed; the Got Your Six Education Pillar Pledge is that cornerstone.

The admirable work on the part of those campuses committing to the Education Pillar Pledge is immeasurable in its value to our academically-bound servicemembers. When paired with the fortitude and confidence lent by these peer-based networks, it is an unstoppable force for change.

We often hear the phrase, “collaboration is the key to success,” and at SVA, that is a motto we live and work by. Some of the greatest success stories and biggest triumphs in our organization’s history have been realized when staff, faculty, and student veterans unite fronts and drive towards a common goal. Together, we can ensure that the next veteran in line has an easier transition than those before.