Student veterans lead “next greatest generation”

Photo: Student Veterans of America / Google Plus The Student Veterans of America Conference in San Antonio.

Photo: Student Veterans of America / Google Plus
The Student Veterans of America Conference in San Antonio.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

A new wave of returning veterans are attending colleges, seeking new careers in civilian life. Across the nation, three quarters of a million veterans are enrolled in colleges with VA educational benefits. These veteran students are dubbed in the media as the “next greatest generation”leaders with a worldview integrating back into home communities.

Last month, the Student Veterans of America (SVA) held its annual meeting in San Antonio that brought together 1,200 participants, with 475 Chapters represented from over 1,000 campus chapters.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Nick Presher, president of the SVA Chapter at Allan Hancock College (AHC) headquartered at Santa Maria, Calif.

“The three-day gathering was truly inspirational to be in company with the camaraderie of student-veteran leaders,” he said.

“The most touching moment was when Kyle Carpenter, a Marine Medal of Honor recipient spoke to the group, taking the medal from his neck ribbon and passing it through the audience so that everyone could hold it in their hands for a moment.”

“The highlight for me was a panel of women who discussed the needs of female service members in transitioning from active duty to student life and civilian roles.”

Speakers at the SVA conference were Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden, a college teacher, and a host of prominent leaders.

Chapter leaders shared innovations in groups. Some competed in the annual Business Plan contest that proposes optimum ways to develop and grow a chapter. This year, Florida State, a perennial winner, took the $10,000 prize over runner-up Spokane City College, a new chapter. Florida State then donated the prize money to Spokane City Collegeanother symbol of cooperative sharing and camaraderie of student veterans.

SVA chapters on campuses across the country report innovations of “best practices” and creative programs that both unify the organization and welcome diversity for individual chapters. Check out the SVA website at www.studentveterans.org for more information on programs and services.

The AHC Chapter in California is exploring ways to collaborate with other chapters, proposing to meet with chapters or veteran groups in the Central Coast region at Cuesta College, CalPoly at St Louis Obispo, and eventually with UC Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara City College.

Additionally, AHC has four campus sites, which is a challenge to network veterans within the same college system but at different locations and with different programs, such a full-time, evening classes for working members or active duty on-base program.

An innovative trend in serving student veterans is happening in North Dakota where the first two chartered American Legion Posts in the nation are established at ND State University in Fargo and University of ND in Grand Forks. Initiated by the State American Legion Headquarters, the SVA Chapter at UND is supporting the growth of the campus-based Legion Posts and promoting the need for veterans’ lounges on campus.

Currently, a “Veterans Outreach” study center is available in the UND Student Union where tutoring, mentoring, and a few computers offer student-veterans individualized services.

A grant from ND Humanities Council is in place to train college students in capturing cinematic stories in one- to two-minute videos by telling their personal narratives and in turn, to mentor high school students in their hometowns in preserving stories of past patriots. The tools used are a smart phone, iPad or a laptop and specialized video-making software from “WeVideo.” Training can be done on a weekend or stretched out flexibly over 12-15 hours onsite or online.

A “Veterans Namesake Initiative” is underway in N.D. during March and April to train youth to produce short cinematic stories of “namesakes” of patriots whose names of past heroes are dedicated via a showcase, a memorial building, a city park, or a veterans’ organization. Potentially, the namesakes of 200 Legion Posts across the state’s landscape could “bring to life” some of the stories of fallen warriors dedicated to a past hero that are largely unknown by the new generation.

In California, a plaque is planned for a June dedication in the city park of Solvang, where one of the campuses of AHC is located, to honor 12 recent Fallen Warriors, sponsored by the local Legion Post and the city. A proposal is on the table to enlist 12 student veterans or associates to produce a short cinematic story of each veteran for showing at the dedication and for posting on a dedicated Website.

SVA is a veterans’ organization that, in my estimation as perhaps its oldest “student” member, is leading in new career pathways in a style of “cooperative” education, based on sharing solid business models for its chapters, and advancing a continued mission of service, while addressing the needs of members.

AHC SVA president Presher summed it up: “We are all learning from each otherto fundraise ourselves to self sufficiency, to partner with campus administration and corporate sponsors, to address the transitional needs of our members, and to become leaders in a kind of grass-root diplomacy in our civic communities.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617

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