Chapter of the Month: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising

The over 1,100 chapters that make up our thriving nationwide network are critical to connecting student veterans to the hectic and sometimes overwhelming campus lifestyle. “SVA chapters are also instrumental in bridging the gap between the veteran students and the administration,” says Cheryl Iannello, chapter advisor to the FIDM SVA.

This chapter embodies that notion in a big way, raising awareness of the contributions and sacrifices made by the campus’ student veteran population through informative spaces, events, and celebrations.

By allowing the more ‘traditional’ students to pay due diligence to their veteran counterparts through recognition of the two major ‘military holidays’ - Memorial and Veteran’s Day - this chapter initiated the dialogue crucial to meaningful on-campus relationships between these two groups, often divided by a lack of understanding and an inability to relate.

According to Iannello, through community outreach, SVA chapters can “provide these students a chance to make positive changes through volunteering and fundraising events,” and this chapter excels at affording its veterans an opportunity to give back. 

Building upon the connections forged through their Memorial Day Barbecue and Veteran’s Day services, the FIDM SVA is working to do even more for the servicemembers within and without the chapter. Looking ahead, their veteran-facilitated outreach will include work at the local VA hospital, and support of “Toys 4 Tots” through their chapter president, an active-duty Marine. 

It often happens that as the ‘veteran’ and ‘student’ identities are reconciled, so too are these two groups of degree-seekers. As veterans are able to come to terms with their new student role and campus surroundings, life post-service is less daunting and a degree becomes more attainable. 

"SVA chapters are so important in providing our military students the chance to help one another achieve their education goals," says Iannello of their on-the-ground work on behalf of FIDM’s veterans. Integration is vital to veteran accomplishment, and the FIDM SVA, along with countless numbers of their peers, are lighting the way. 

#SVALeads in San Diego

August 7-10th, student veterans from surrounding states, a handful of very proud SVA staff members, and our partners at the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) and General Dynamics convened in sunny San Diego for three days of collaboration, cooperation, and dialogue. Our veterans ended their time spent in San Diego better equipped to take the reigns of their professional careers and lead the way to a progressive future on-campus and in-community.

"Leadership is constant revision, constructive questioning of self and your abilities."  

Through an open letter of thanks to supporters and members, Student Veterans of America’s President and CEO, D. Wayne Robinson highlights the hard work and dedication of our chapters across the country. From the state and local levels, our student veterans capitalized upon their robust peer networks to contribute to the passage of in-state tuition for veterans attending public institutions: 
August 5, 2014
Dear Members and Supporters, 
Last week, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, a piece of legislation that has sweeping implications for veterans across the country. While the measure was a direct answer to thousands of voices calling for reform within the VA medical system, this historic legislation also includes provisions that will increase access to education opportunities for veterans and their families. 
With the passage of this measure, leaders in Congress have signaled they truly recognize the benefit veterans bring to our nation’s classrooms and campuses. Over one million veterans and dependents have already used the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and the expansion of the Sergeant Fry Scholarship Program and #InState4Vets, provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, will open the doors for many more to follow in their footsteps. 
As we celebrate this hard earned victory here in Washington, DC, we would be remiss to not recognize the thousands of student veterans who played a crucial role in powering these campaigns at the local level. Over the last three years, SVA has been privileged to nurture a growing network of advocates that truly embody the ethos of camaraderie. It was only through leveraging your voices and building upon your efforts that SVA has been a vessel of change, and I am proud to be the leader at its helm. 
Next week, The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars will join SVA at the National Veterans Center to unpack the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act and discuss what the measure means for student veterans. I hope you join us Thursday, August 14, 2014 from 2:00pm – 3:00pm EST for this important dialogue. 
Thank you again for your steadfast commitment to your peers, your community, and to this organization. 
Respectfully,

D. Wayne Robinson 
President and CEO

Student Veterans of America

Through an open letter of thanks to supporters and members, Student Veterans of America’s President and CEO, D. Wayne Robinson highlights the hard work and dedication of our chapters across the country. From the state and local levels, our student veterans capitalized upon their robust peer networks to contribute to the passage of in-state tuition for veterans attending public institutions: 

August 5, 2014

Dear Members and Supporters,

Last week, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, a piece of legislation that has sweeping implications for veterans across the country. While the measure was a direct answer to thousands of voices calling for reform within the VA medical system, this historic legislation also includes provisions that will increase access to education opportunities for veterans and their families.

With the passage of this measure, leaders in Congress have signaled they truly recognize the benefit veterans bring to our nation’s classrooms and campuses. Over one million veterans and dependents have already used the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and the expansion of the Sergeant Fry Scholarship Program and #InState4Vets, provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, will open the doors for many more to follow in their footsteps.

As we celebrate this hard earned victory here in Washington, DC, we would be remiss to not recognize the thousands of student veterans who played a crucial role in powering these campaigns at the local level. Over the last three years, SVA has been privileged to nurture a growing network of advocates that truly embody the ethos of camaraderie. It was only through leveraging your voices and building upon your efforts that SVA has been a vessel of change, and I am proud to be the leader at its helm.

Next week, The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars will join SVA at the National Veterans Center to unpack the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act and discuss what the measure means for student veterans. I hope you join us Thursday, August 14, 2014 from 2:00pm – 3:00pm EST for this important dialogue.

Thank you again for your steadfast commitment to your peers, your community, and to this organization.

Respectfully,

D. Wayne Robinson

President and CEO

Student Veterans of America

Chapter of the Month: Community College of Rhode Island

The student veterans at the Community College of Rhode Island have proven themselves outspoken activists for their brothers and sisters, raising awareness and meeting with policy leaders to enact lasting change in both local and state-wide communities.

Says chapter leader Michael Steiner, SVA chapters serve as “student veteran accelerators,” and the CCRI Student Veterans Organization have put the veteran agenda on the fast track.

This past year has seen Steiner and his colleagues tackle major issues facing student veterans across the state in the Sound Off! Veterans Panel Discussion with students, faculty, and staff from many Rhode Island campuses as well as candidates for high-level state positions. 

Alongside the Rhode Island Military Organization, the CCRI SVO has also successfully lobbied for the passage of legislation allowing disabled veterans to register for classes along with their traditional counterparts at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and their own campus.

The chapter additionally had the opportunity to hold their Third Annual Armed Forces Recognition Day this past November at the Rhode Island State House. Rhode Island State Senator, Air National Guard Master Sergeant and CCRI alum Juan Pichardo headlined the event, and joined the chapter in dedicating a plaque to those Rhode Island servicemembers claimed since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The future will see these staunch veteran advocates bolstering their efforts by building their network of support on-campus and throughout the community.

The importance of their chapter lies in being “able to meet each other, as well as network with those looking to help veterans,” says Steiner. By continuing to push for an on-campus veteran resource center, expanding their presence on all four of the CCRI campuses, and solidifying their ties with community partners such as the Rhode Island Military Organization, the Rhode Island Vet Corps, and VetSuccess on Campus, these vets are doing just that.

With all they’ve accomplished, and all they aim to do on behalf of their peers, we’re confident the future of Rhode Island student veterans is in good hands.

Outstanding Student Veteran: Hillary LaFever-Ceja

Hillary LaFever-Ceja has made helping people her personal mission, and her life both in and out of the service speaks of her selfless dedication to others.

A central California native and one of five children, LaFever-Ceja joined the Army as a Medic in 2002 to get out of dodge. She was eventually re-classed as a Civil Affairs Specialist, doubling up on her role as a medic and facilitating medical outreach, community-building and dislocated civilian protection efforts during her tour in Iraq from 2005-06, and again with tours in Romania and Thailand in 2007. 

It was while active-duty in Iraq that she met her husband, Sergeant Matthew Ceja. It wasn’t too long until the two were married, and became the proud parents of two sons, David and Gideon. Shortly after, Matthew succumbed in 2009 to an auto-immune disease contracted on his overseas tour. 

True to form, LaFever-Ceja transformed her challenges into opportunities, transferring from Mesa Community College to Arizona State University in the Spring of 2012 to pursue studies in Human Nutrition and Pre-Medicine. It was also at that time that she also joined the ASU Student Veterans Association, the SVA Chapter on campus, and by the fall became an officer in the organization.

In her tenacious pursuit to improve the world around her and the lives of those in it, Hillary began a stellar service career with her work in The Lund Family Birth Center at Mercy Gilbert Medical. It was from that position that she transitioned into interned dietitian work at the Phoenix VA Hospital, and then joined a select group of pre-med students participating in a medical outreach trip to shadow and assist Nicaraguan doctors in delivering medical care to poverty-stricken areas. 

That, coupled with her current position providing nutritional analysis and veteran liaison services at a student-run clinic, Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW), a collaborative between ASU, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona. That and her numerous other volunteer and service projects has us at SVA excited to see what’s next for this outstanding student veteran.

For her, that could mean graduate or medical studies to open women’s health clinics, suited to provide for under-served populations. With a big heart and even bigger dreams, LaFever-Ceja is sure to change the world for the better, and we can’t wait to see how she does it.

2014 Leadership Institute

The Walmart Headquarters was the site of this year’s Leadership Institute as well as the engaging presentations, lively discussions, and easy smiles that defined our three days spent in Bentonville.

Ambitious student veterans worked hard to maximize our most robust leadership curriculum to-date. That, coupled with some fantastic partner support from our friends at Purdue University’s Military Family Research Institute, Walmart, and Disney made this our biggest and best Institute yet, and an unbeatable way to kick off this year’s Leadership Summit series.

We had the privilege of meeting 125 student veteran leaders during our time in Arkansas. These accomplished veterans hailed from community, public, and private institutions that altogether represented a combined 70,000-strong veteran population. Veterans from all five branches networked while 70 year-old student veteran organizations collaborated with those founded this past spring, each contributing to the peer support that is the lifeblood of our chapter network. 

Presentations, panels, and group sessions demonstrated to our vets how to build their professional presence, create a thriving and sustainable chapter, and sharpen their business and career strategy. We’re confident there’s a rewarding career in-store for these budding professionals, and are excited to see many compete in our 3rd Annual Business Plan Competition.

The Leadership Institute was also a great opportunity for us to recognize some outstanding members of our chapter network. On day two, our colleagues from Disney joined us to recognize the recipients of this year’s Disney-SVA Scholarship: Cameron Waites, Army veteran and student at Harvard Medical School; Molly Schmelzle, Coast Guard veteran and Masters Candidate in Marine Biology; and Kalo Haslem, Army veteran and Masters Candidate in Teaching. Thanks to the Disney-SVA Scholarship, Cameron, Molly, and Kalo will each put $10,000 towards their studies and their promising careers, and our country will be better for it.

2014’s Student Council was also on scene and in-force, lending their ground-level experience and perspective to SVA’s executive leadership as we improve our programs and services.

Our three days together in Arkansas served as a great reminder of all you’re capable of. We were consistently amazed at the talent and hard work of our student veterans, and it’s your dedication that’s made the journey much better than the destination.

A Letter From the VA

Colleagues and Fellow Veterans,

Many of you may have heard of the “Yellow Ribbon” program … but some may be confused as to what it refers to.  Your confusion is warranted, there are two “Yellow Ribbon” programs, both very different from each other.

There is the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) offered by the Department of Defense for National Guard and Reserve members of the Armed Forces. Through their programs, families are connected to resources through the deployment period and help with reintegration afterwards. You can learn more about YRRP by visiting their website. It’s a very useful program.

Then there is the Yellow Ribbon G.I. Education Enhancement Program provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The Yellow Ribbon program offered by VA allows degree-granting Institutions of Higher Learning in the United States (colleges/universities) to voluntarily enter into an agreement with VA to fund tuition and fee expenses not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill for out-of-state students or those attending a private institution. The institution can contribute a specified dollar amount of those expenses and VA will match the same amount as the institution, not to exceed 50 percent of the difference. Nearly 2,000 institutions are participating in the program for the upcoming 2014 – 2015 academic year.

If you’re a student or know a student searching for a school, we encourage you to visit the GI Bill Comparison Tool.  The tool will display whether the school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program.  To get specific information on the level of participation by school, please visit the Yellow Ribbon map.  We’ve listed the degree levels, schools, number of students, and maximum contribution for each Yellow Ribbon participating institution in each state.

Hope this clears things up a bit … or perhaps you had never heard of Yellow Ribbon and are now thoroughly confused.  If so, please see above. 

VA Core Values: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence (“I CARE”)

V/R

Curtis L. Coy 
Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity 
Veterans Benefits Administration 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Chapter of the Month: Northern Arizona University

The student veteran chapter at Northern Arizona University takes care of their own. The NAU SVA provides transition, career, and social guidance, lending a helping hand to their diverse population of servicemembers as they pursue post-secondary success.

According to chapter president Armando Escalanti, SVA chapters “are vital to the transition, academic success, and career development of the student veteran,” and the NAU SVA has worked hard to embody that sentiment with events and programs such as their veteran-specific orientation, welcome BBQ’s, and ‘Food-4-Thought’ meetings wherein guest speakers and presentations focus on enabling chapter members to empower their community and themselves.

This chapter and their campus know that the first year of the college experience is the most critical to a student veteran’s successful transition into the university setting, and work hard to reach as many veterans as they can during this critical time.

This coming fall, NAU will be rolling out the third generation of their Veteran Educational Transition Success (VETS) program, and it’s bigger and better than ever. The program incorporates national best-practices to build more comprehensive services and make a seamless transition a reality for their current and former servicemembers.

With services that include a well-rounded and inclusive orientation, VETS provides guidance from application and enrollment through graduation with a “Transition Checklist”, a College-Based Learning Community (CBLC), and a First-Year Veteran Transition Seminar providing vital academic skills and resources to thrive in the classroom. 

This deserving chapter is also a recipient of this year’s VetCenter Initiative grant, with which they’re building a home-base for their supportive programs. Says Escalanti, “Our SVA, located in the Veteran Student Center, is a place where a veteran can make connections, establish friendships, and receive help during their time in school. These factors cannot be overstated with regards to the role they play in veteran retention.”

In an effort to bring transitional support to veterans on campuses throughout Northern Arizona, the NAU SVA, along with the NAU Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, will play a major part in the upcoming Northern Arizona Veterans in Higher Education Summit. This chapter will be on the ground, sponsoring the establishment of chapters on campuses of all five community colleges in northern Arizona. We look forward to attending, and seeing all their great work first-hand.

In addition to the great programs and practices the chapter has implemented, there’s another unique facet to this community: NAU is a staunch advocate for veterans of Native American heritage. With a significant number of servicemembers and veterans who are Native American at this university, they have taken a strong approach to serve this population of veterans.

Coupled with the campus’ inclusive SVA chapter, NAU’s Native American Student Services hosts a Scholars Program, a Leadership Workshop Series, and provides academic and career guidance and resources through their Native American Cultural Center.

With all of the many things the NAU SVA does for its veterans, there’s always a helping hand to make sure student veterans of all backgrounds on this campus know the way to graduation and have the tools to make it there.

 

Outstanding Student Veteran: Sherry Shi

Army veteran and college student Sherry Shi has a habit of defying expectations. “I love to break stereotypes,” says Shi, a Michigan native. As a woman vet, Shi and her sisters-in-arms make up just about 8% of the nation’s total  veteran population[1]; as an Asian-American, Shi must confront even more expectations and labels.

Entering into service straight out of high school in 2008, Shi rose to the rank of Sergeant and served as an Intelligence Analyst, with tours in both Germany and Iraq.  Upon enrolling at Stony Brook University after separating in 2012, she jumped into her studies and life as a student veteran, working with her peers to revive the Veteran Student Organization (VESO).

The chapter quickly grew to be an indelible presence in the lives of the campus’ 170 student veterans. VESO now serves their servicemembers-turned-scholars in a big way through initiatives such as their Yellow Ribbon Project and Vets-4-Vets Program. The former provides the campus’ non-veteran students an opportunity to write about and share their experiences with the veteran community, while the latter smooths the service-to-school transition by pairing incoming student veterans with current ones.

Their ambition doesn’t end there. VESO is taking part in both a Fall 5k designed to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), and Spring fundraisers to garner support for the chapter. They are also in the process of applying for a Chapter Grant to continue their success and have a chance in competing in this year’s 3rd Annual Business Plan Competition.

Personally, Shi’s success has proven nothing short of remarkable. Her academic success pursuing degrees in Computer Science and Public Service have made her a consistent presence on the Dean’s List and earned her $10,000 and an exclusive scholar’s retreat as part of the Google-SVA Scholarship. Shi serves as Vice President of the Women in Computer Science student group on campus, and was a vocal presence at this year’s 6th Annual National Conference. 

As VESO’s recently-elected chapter president, we know the only way Shi will lead this well-established chapter is up. With her diverse internship opportunities, Shi hopes to explore the intersections of her two chosen fields and continue doing what she does best - breaking the mold, and paving the way for others to follow.


[1] Women Veterans: Past, Present and Future. (2007, September 1). . Retrieved , from http://www1.va.gov/womenvet/docs/womenvet_history.pdf

SVA Honors Gold Star Mothers
To honor the fallen this Memorial Day, Student Veterans of America supported those who loved them the most: their mothers.
In the months leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, SVA President and CEO D. Wayne Robinson requested a special project in collaboration with American Gold Star Mothers, the congressionally chartered organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to their country. The “Gold Star Mother’s Scribe Project” linked volunteer veterans with Gold Star Mothers to learn about their loved ones, and create special memorial pictures of them using the photo editing application ‘Wordfoto’.
Executed by SVA’s National Veterans Center, the partnership linked 16 mothers with volunteer veterans who conducted phone interviews with them about their sons and daughters. The volunteers reflected on the meaning of the project, and the importance of staying connected with the loved ones of those who have given all.
“Projects like these are exactly what Memorial Day service is about,” Robinson said. “Those of us who’ve lost brothers or sisters downrange never forget their sacrifice, and always hope that we can live our lives to honor their memory. Thanks to partnering with American Gold Star Mothers, we can learn more about the memories we strive to honor.”
The Mothers met the veterans in-person for the first time at the National Veterans Center on Friday May 23rd, where the works of art commemorating their sons and daughters were presented to them. Following the presentation, a dinner reception was shared by all.

SVA Honors Gold Star Mothers

To honor the fallen this Memorial Day, Student Veterans of America supported those who loved them the most: their mothers.

In the months leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, SVA President and CEO D. Wayne Robinson requested a special project in collaboration with American Gold Star Mothers, the congressionally chartered organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to their country. The “Gold Star Mother’s Scribe Project” linked volunteer veterans with Gold Star Mothers to learn about their loved ones, and create special memorial pictures of them using the photo editing application ‘Wordfoto’.

Executed by SVA’s National Veterans Center, the partnership linked 16 mothers with volunteer veterans who conducted phone interviews with them about their sons and daughters. The volunteers reflected on the meaning of the project, and the importance of staying connected with the loved ones of those who have given all.

“Projects like these are exactly what Memorial Day service is about,” Robinson said. “Those of us who’ve lost brothers or sisters downrange never forget their sacrifice, and always hope that we can live our lives to honor their memory. Thanks to partnering with American Gold Star Mothers, we can learn more about the memories we strive to honor.”

The Mothers met the veterans in-person for the first time at the National Veterans Center on Friday May 23rd, where the works of art commemorating their sons and daughters were presented to them. Following the presentation, a dinner reception was shared by all.