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.

2014 Student Council

Abby Kinch 

Abby Kinch served in the United States Air Force as an Airborne Chinese Cryptologic Linguist stationed at Offutt AFB, NE with the 97th IS. After separating from the Air Force, she worked in supply chain, dealing directly with factories in China, and obtained her A.A. from Tallahassee Community College. After the Chapter 33, Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was released, she attended Florida State University, earning her Bachelor’s degree in Chinese Language and Linguistics in 2011. With the remainder of her G.I. Bill benefits, she earned her Master’s degree in East Asian Studies and a Certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, combining the two to do research in terrorism in Asia. She is currently working on her PhD in Public Administration and Policy, conducting research on anti-terrorism policy in West China and Central Asia.

Abby has been an active member in her SVA Chapter since the end of 2011, and is currently serving her second term as the organization’s president. She also works in the Graduate Admissions office for the Florida State University College of Business. Her biggest goal is for student veterans to realize the potential for success and growth that a university campus offers. So many veterans, including herself early on, use their benefits without ever seeing the countless opportunities that are afforded them – from government to Greek, from athletics to honors. While being a veteran sets us apart, that is only a part of what our life is about to become, and our mission continues in civilian life just as it did in the military: to better this nation and its people.

Chris Hinds (not pictured)

Chris Hinds served in the United States Army stationed at Ft. Riley from 2007-2010 as a 19-D Calvary Scout, and completed his service with the Iowa National Guard from 2010-2013. He served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2008-2009 with the 1st Infantry Division, 2 Heavy Brigade Combat Team,1- 63 Combined Arms Battalion. After separating from military service in early 2013, Hinds enrolled at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kansas, where he is currently studying Construction Management with an emphasis on Leadership Studies. Hinds has served as the JCCC Veteran’s Club President since fall of 2013. He advocates for JCCC and student veterans through his role with veteran’s outreach support within the college’s veteran services department.

John Schiffer

John Schiffer served on active in the United States Marine Corps from 2007 to 2012. He worked primarily as a radio operator and completed deployments to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and on board ship while with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. In 2012 he entered Columbia university in The City of New York where he is currently a senior studying applied mathematics. John is heavily involved in Columbia’s student veteran organization, the United States Military Veterans of Columbia University, having served as the Veteran Students Representative on Columbia’s student council during the 2012-2013 school year, and the club’s Vice President from 2013 to 2014.

During his time at Columbia he has worked closely with a wide range of companies and non-profits by forming new partnerships and connecting student veterans with employment opportunities in the city and across the nation. In addition he also helped to organize philanthropic events such as the Toys for Tots holiday campaign, which collected over 400 toys for children in need, and helped to orchestrate the biggest ever Annual Military ball, a large scale formal event attended by veteran and non-veteran students alike. John is interning with Amazon during the summer of 2014 and intends to pursue a career in logistics and supply chain management after graduating.

Michael Stack

Michael Stack served on active duty in the United States Navy from 1997-2007, where he completed 4 deployments with the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) and the USS McCampbell (DDG-85). Upon receiving an honorable discharge as an IT1(SW), Michael moved to Iraq where he worked as an IT contractor for 2 years. Having completed most of his undergraduate degree while in the Navy, Michael graduated shortly after returning home, and began working as an IT project management consultant. In Spring 2013, Michael enrolled in graduate school at the University of Colorado Denver, and will graduate in May 2014 with a M.Sci. in Information Systems specializing in Healthcare IT.

As President of his SVA chapter, Michael led highly successful branding and social media campaigns, and helped his chapter achieve 1st Place in the SVA’s 2014 National Business Plan Competition. Michael was recently recognized as 1 of 2 Newman Civic Fellows Award recipients from Colorado for his work with veterans, and he currently serves on the Board of Directors of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado Foundation. 



Chapter of the Month: Fayetteville Technical Community College

For the past two years, the SVA chapter on the campus of Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) has been a force for change in the lives of local veterans, walking their talk by providing opportunities for self-improvement and growth.

This hard-hitting chapter is working hard to set up their servicemembers for success. The FTCC vets worked with their campus administration to establish the ‘All American Veterans Center’, providing comprehensive education, benefits, employment, and outsourcing services. When it came time to equip their mission, the FTCC SVA was able to use 10,000 in funds from this year’s VetCenter Initiative grant, provided in partnership with The Home Depot Foundation.

With the furnishings and labor they needed from their local Home Depot, things were quick to fall together for these student veterans.

With their full-service center now available, outgoing Chapter President Matt Thewes says they can fulfill their purpose of veterans “having a group to call home and a place to work together on issues that pertain to them.” Additionally, this outstanding chapter now has a homebase for continuing their efforts to bring in recruiters to get their warriors career-ready, and maybe even land a job.

Looking ahead, it only gets better. With the innovative leadership offered by their newly-held elections, the FTCC student veterans hope to set up a wooden display case honoring POW/MIA servicemembers in their center, as well as “put together an outstanding Veteran’s Day celebration on campus, this fall,” says Thewes. We have no doubt that they’ll accomplish that and more in the future.

To get a great glimpse at how the All American Veterans Center has been progressing, please click here.

Legacy of Service Memorialized at CSUSB

Student veterans know that the campus Veterans Center can be a home away from home, and for some chapters, it also presents the opportunity to honor one of their own. The Student Veterans at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) recently received a grant through the Vet Center Initiative from Student Veterans of America (SVA) and The Home Depot Foundation. This partnership is helping SVA chapters to build or renovate veteran-specific resource centers on their campuses. CSUSB will be using a portion of the funds to build a textbook lending library as a memorial to Paul Barry Fletcher, III – a student veteran and fellow Coyote who collapsed suddenly in class from an aneurism and passed away on September 24, 2013.
Born January 11, 1960, Barry began his service to others early in life. His wife, Janette, shared that he joined the army at age seventeen to help make payments on the family home when a personal tragedy left them without support. Barry served as a sniper in the Korean DMZ, where he also earned black belts in Hapkido and Jiu Jitsu. While in service, he was a founding member of the United Nations Honor Guard in Seoul, and an honor graduate of the non-commissioned officer’s course. Janette said, “When he spoke of the military it was always with fierce pride and absolute loyalty. He was particularly protective of the American Flag.”
After his military career, Barry found new ways to serve by volunteering his time and skills to teach photography to students at a local elementary school. He returned to college and was in the final quarter of completing his posthumously-awarded Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies at the time of his passing. Marcí Daniels, Director of the Veterans Success Center (VSC), said Barry was vibrant presence in the CSUSB student veteran community, and could be found in the VSC every day having his morning coffee.
He initiated the Senior Veterans Quilt, comprised of squares completed by each graduating senior student veteran containing their name, rank and branch of service, date of graduation, and major. The ever-growing quilt hanging in the VSC is a visual representation of the success student veterans are achieving in their academic careers and beyond.
Ensuring that his family was taken care of was a primary motivation behind Barry’s return to school. His two sons also serve in the military (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard), and his choice to be an organ donor meant complete strangers were given a second chance at life after his passing. “He was always worried about others,” said Daniels. Therefore, it is fitting that CSUSB should honor Barry’s legacy of service with a memorial textbook lending library. Added Daniels, “We thought the best way to carry on his spirit… would be to help other veterans who could not afford their textbooks.”
David Briggs, an Army veteran and fellow CSUSB-SVO member has been raising money to stock the library through his GoFundMe page. The generous support received through SVA and The Home Depot Foundation will ensure that CSUSB student veterans have the resources to achieve their academic goals, and that Barry’s altruism will continue to have a positive impact on those he cared so deeply about.
Help stock Barry’s library:
http://www.gofundme.com/6izifk

Legacy of Service Memorialized at CSUSB

Student veterans know that the campus Veterans Center can be a home away from home, and for some chapters, it also presents the opportunity to honor one of their own. The Student Veterans at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) recently received a grant through the Vet Center Initiative from Student Veterans of America (SVA) and The Home Depot Foundation. This partnership is helping SVA chapters to build or renovate veteran-specific resource centers on their campuses. CSUSB will be using a portion of the funds to build a textbook lending library as a memorial to Paul Barry Fletcher, III – a student veteran and fellow Coyote who collapsed suddenly in class from an aneurism and passed away on September 24, 2013.

Born January 11, 1960, Barry began his service to others early in life. His wife, Janette, shared that he joined the army at age seventeen to help make payments on the family home when a personal tragedy left them without support. Barry served as a sniper in the Korean DMZ, where he also earned black belts in Hapkido and Jiu Jitsu. While in service, he was a founding member of the United Nations Honor Guard in Seoul, and an honor graduate of the non-commissioned officer’s course. Janette said, “When he spoke of the military it was always with fierce pride and absolute loyalty. He was particularly protective of the American Flag.”

After his military career, Barry found new ways to serve by volunteering his time and skills to teach photography to students at a local elementary school. He returned to college and was in the final quarter of completing his posthumously-awarded Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies at the time of his passing. Marcí Daniels, Director of the Veterans Success Center (VSC), said Barry was vibrant presence in the CSUSB student veteran community, and could be found in the VSC every day having his morning coffee.

He initiated the Senior Veterans Quilt, comprised of squares completed by each graduating senior student veteran containing their name, rank and branch of service, date of graduation, and major. The ever-growing quilt hanging in the VSC is a visual representation of the success student veterans are achieving in their academic careers and beyond.

Ensuring that his family was taken care of was a primary motivation behind Barry’s return to school. His two sons also serve in the military (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard), and his choice to be an organ donor meant complete strangers were given a second chance at life after his passing. “He was always worried about others,” said Daniels. Therefore, it is fitting that CSUSB should honor Barry’s legacy of service with a memorial textbook lending library. Added Daniels, “We thought the best way to carry on his spirit… would be to help other veterans who could not afford their textbooks.”

David Briggs, an Army veteran and fellow CSUSB-SVO member has been raising money to stock the library through his GoFundMe page. The generous support received through SVA and The Home Depot Foundation will ensure that CSUSB student veterans have the resources to achieve their academic goals, and that Barry’s altruism will continue to have a positive impact on those he cared so deeply about.

Help stock Barry’s library:

http://www.gofundme.com/6izifk