Earlier this month Student Veterans of America (SVA) wrapped up our 9th annual national conference – or NatCon for short – in Anaheim, California. NatCon is the largest gathering of student Veterans in the country. Many, if not the majority, of attendees are using VA’s Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend school which is reassuring. I was the chief of GI Bill public relations and digital engagement before I joined the SVA family as the vice president of communications in November.
In my short time here, two things have become very clear: our student Veterans are some of the most talented people in the country and 2017 is going to be a great year for them. Take Kate Tillotson for example. Kate was awarded our Student Veteran of the Year at NatCon. She attended one of our Leadership Summits last year where she learned advanced chapter management techniques. To Kate’s credit she applied everything she learned from SVA into creating one of the most successful chapters in higher education.
Kate joined the Marines in 2007 and is a speech pathology major at the University of Tulsa. She became president of the Tulsa University Student Veteran Association in April 2016 and set to work rebuilding a group that was in disarray into a model association.
She planned and held a “Ask VA a Question/File Your Claim” day with the local VA Regional Office. She worked with Tulsa’s creative writing department to host author Phil Klay for students to meet. During her tenure Kate established working relationship with Chevron, U.S. Cellular, the Army Corps of Engineers and more to support her members.
Kate saw a need to improve the Veteran lounge on campus which was really just a repurposed dorm room. She and her team wrote a business plan and successfully secured a grant from the Home Depot Foundation to renovate the lounge though our Vet Center Initiative Program. Not content, she leveraged winning our grant to lobby for a larger space with the University of Tulsa. Now they have a house … an official Student Veteran House that’s ADA compliant.
If you think her story is unique, think again. There are a thousand other stories out there of student Veterans persevering in higher education and beyond. Kate’s is a great example. She represents what student Veterans are achieving in higher education and we can’t wait to feature more in 2017.
When compared to their peers, student Veterans represent the single best source of potential and current achievers in higher education. Our president and CEO, Jared Lyon, declared student Veterans as “rightful heirs” to the service men and women who separated after World War Two and created a vibrant economy for America. We can say this because our research with VA has confirmed it. There’s much more to come as we roll out the results but let’s be clear: the narrative that student Veterans are somehow victims of circumstances beyond their control is untrue. Compared to their peers, student Veterans are more likely to graduate, to have a higher GPA, and to earn academically-rigorous degrees.
Kate and many others who attended NatCon represent the best of what the Post-9/11 GI Bill has to offer: student Veterans who look not to be served but to serve others and solve problems. SVA is here to foster both.
Barrett Y. Bogue is the vice president of communications for Student Veterans of America.