Tales from the oil patch

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Photo: Larrie Wanberg
Student Veterans of America President and CEO addresses the 700 registered attendees at the National Conference in Scottsdale.

A video of President Barron addresses Student Veterans of America: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSvRd42w1oc

FSU Headlines coverage of the Student Veterans of America Conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdhNtZTv2AM

By Larrie Wanberg

As the oldest person in the assembly room and the oldest “freshman” registered for class at the University of North Dakota (ND), I have not felt such synergy or camaraderie since I retired from the military in 1981 at the age of 51 with 27 years service in the Army Medical Service Corps.

On January 2-5 in Scottsdale AZ, I attended the 6th annual Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference on “Pioneering Social Change” to learn about the “best practices” from a national movement of student-veteran leadership.

Seven hundred attendees from across the country compared campus-based innovations that serve recent returnees with vanguard programs.

The tag lines on the conference program read: “Yesterday’s Warriors, Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

The two-and-a-half-day conference was truly inspiring, practical and mobilizing. Experiencing face-to-face how today’s student veterans, as social entrepreneurs under the Post 911 benefits, are shaping a new campus based culture that is reminiscent of how the GI Bill 70 years ago “changed the world.”

The program speakers included generals, national agency leaders in the VA, American Legion, VFW, a host of student leaders on panels, and a conference supported primarily by leading corporations, such as Google, General Dynamics, Prudential and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Dozens of corporate exhibitors were promoting new ways of networking, retention and recruiting through scholarships, internships and on-the-job training.

Although the collection of leaders was impressive to me, the most impressive event to observe was how a groundswell of student veterans was achieving an outcome that no agency – state of federal – could achieve.

This achieved outcome is impacting social change and applying the forces of entrepreneurship, networking and building unity by a cooperative exchange of “best practices” gained from “knowledge-based competencies” on college campuses.

Recent returnees are being recognized as community catalysts who know the way world works, how training for missions organize “manpower“ for action, and why utilizing advanced technologies is the name-of the- game in today’s digital environment.

Corporate sponsors echoed a growing theme, paraphrased in a sentence: “Military members are transitioning from a ‘we-society’ to a more commonly ‘me culture’ in the competitive job world; however, service organizations in communities and on campuses reflect a more familiar ‘double bottom-line’ – measuring success in operations (strategies) and impacting social change (mission).”

Where ND shines in creating innovation is the organizing of SVA Chapter, titled Military Association of College Volunteers (MACV) at UND in 2011 and the parallel leadership of the ND Department of American Legion to establish a campus-based Legion Post 400 on the NDSU campus in 2012 and again chartering UND Post 401 in 2013. The UDSU Post 400 is the first chartered campus-based Post for Legion members in the Nation.

The UND SVA chapter in the New Year is refreshing its beginning and re-tooling its organization to keep pace with its “vanguard” history.

A far-reaching goal of the ND American Legion is to establish a Legion Post for student Veterans on each campus and link them to refresh the community-based Posts with new members and programs.

A SVA goal of the UND MACV initiative is to create a “wrap-around campus based peer-community to support Legion Posts and other Veteran programs that impact student veterans as individuals and in groups.”

The future focus of MACV is to develop a diverse student organization of college volunteers with open memberships to peers, alumni and service groups to support existing Veteran organizations with events, fundraising and “best practices” that apply from a national network of knowledge-based solutions.

A “Golden Paperclip” project for helping student-veterans get jobs is on the drawing board that originated as a student term paper in a UND class on “Social Entrepreneurship.”

A seed grant in ND is in the mix of innovations to train students to capture the stories of veterans (and veterans as pioneers) by producing one-three minute documentary style “iMovies” that develop visual Web content that “tell the story” of veterans on the screens of a smart phone.

A start-up development grant from ND Humanities Council funds a “Story Mapping Dakota” project, which links a map pin on a Google map to a specific story at that place and with a click, plays out as an iMovie on a smart phone screen. The grant, which is administered by the non-profit “Dakota Heritage Institute” through the Knife River Indian Heritage Foundation, promotes partnerships with community resources to tell the Veteran story of recent returnees through new media.

By attending the SVA “Pioneering Social Change” conference as the interim older-than-ordinary student-president of UND SVA Chapter (and an American Legion member), my sense is that many of the “best practices” that are evolving from grass-root campus initiatives are in motion in ND as a banner carrier of leadership by Student Veterans.

The Student Veteran Conference on “Pioneering Social Change” exceeded expectations and lived up to the Tagline: “Yesterday’s Warriors, Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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