By Randawnique Coakley
It is not often when students from University Campus connect with those from the other centers. However, from Jan. 5 to 8, with the 2017 Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference at Anaheim, CA, 13 students from the centers and the main campus were able to connect with one another.
This is the first time that Saint Leo University Student veterans, Active military, and ROTC student cadets attended this conference or even a conference at this scale. The conference was a venue for the students at the centers and main campus to interact and the students who attended the conference were thrilled with their experience.
“As a graduate student in the new MA program in Creative Writing, our cohort only meets once a year for our week-long campus residencies. Since the remainder of the time is independent study, I really don’t get to interact with other SLU students. This was also the case when I took classes toward my BA degree at the MacDill and Channelside centers in Tampa, where there was no real interaction with other students outside of the classroom,” said Jennifer Harman, student veteran, U.S. Navy. “Participating in an event like this gave me the opportunity to really connect with other SLU students, but specifically with fellow veteran students. In a very short time, we formed lasting friendships, and have continued to keep in contact with each other since.”
Along with students from main campus, the Saint Leo students, who attended the conference, hailed from a variety of centers: South Hampton Roads, San Diego, The Center of Online Learning, and the Adult Education Center.
Since the conference was an opportunity for these students from the centers and university campus to interact, one of the students who attended the conference, John Morgan, a student at the Adult Center and US Army Retired, talked about a chapter of Omega Delta Sigma, a military fraternal organization, being established for Saint Leo. Morgan, who will be the president of the chapter, explained that in an effort to interact with the centers more, the organization will invite those from the centers to future events and have virtual meetings.
Along with Morgan and Harman, many other students enjoyed their experience, like Alexas Casillas, a junior majoring in Healthcare Management who is also a military family member on University Campus.
“Our first impression was interesting. Most of us were so tired and met up at 5:00am to go to the airport. But after we got to meet everyone it was happy and joyful. We all had great conversations and really bonded,” said Casillas. “A few nights we ate dinner together, gave advice to each other, and now we have some amazing memories from the conference. Today, we are all still communicating whether that [is] because of Student Veterans of America, Omega Delta Sigma [a military organization], or because we all came back with friendships.”
This three day conference was attended by approximately 1,400 fellow student veterans and military from Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapters all over the country for the annual conference.
“This event was an opportunity to bring our Saint Leo SVA chapter representatives together from Main Campus and from our Centers to learn from other SVA chapters and fellow student veterans and to discuss best practices for SVA chapters and how to work together to assist with transition from the military. The combination of guest speakers, workshops and topics of interest to student veterans plus the Career fair and ability to work with recruiters and personnel who are experts in LinkedIn and resume writing for example was a great benefit to students,” said Director of the Office of Military Affairs and Services Colonel (Ret.) Pamela Martis.
In addition, Casillas said that there were a variety of sessions at the conference, with topics ranging from resumes and interview tips to scholarships and leadership in clubs on campuses to even problems that exist in the military today. Also, the conference was beneficial as it addressed challenges some veterans and military, who may be older or even parents, face returning back to school, as Harman states. Harman also said additional focuses of the conference included: “making courses more accessible & accommodating during deployment; obstacles women veterans face in education & leadership; navigating scholarships, internships, VA benefits; post graduate opportunities in career & education; SVA resources.”
The conference was a fascinating and an immersive experience for those who attended. In fact, each of the SVA chapter members, who attended the conference, will present a three to five minute presentation in Feb. about their experience.
“US veterans have a bond that is simply unique to us, because we thoroughly understand how hard it is to raise your right hand and vow to fight for this country. It was also so welcoming to meet so many people looking for the same goal, to continue to be good productive people in our society,” said Norman Wildamen, a senior majoring in Computer Science who is also a veteran of the United States Air Force.
As Wildamen suggests, there is a bond between those who serve. Also, it is definitely difficult for veterans and active duty service members to transition from working in the military to civilian life and returning to school, and Saint Leo University provides many supportive services to its student veterans and military.
“The moment I stepped foot on campus last semester I was greeted with what Saint Leo could do for me as a student veteran. Because of our great leadership here our Student Veterans of America organization is growing and thriving while making great efforts to do what it can for our veterans,” said Wilderman.
Saint Leo plays a major role in the lives of student veterans, military-affiliated students and those who are still on active duty. IIt is evident in the number of awards that Saint Leo has earned in the area of supportive services and programs for student veterans and military at Main campus and all of our centers. The University has also been recognized for many awards for 2017: Best For Vets by US News And World, Top Ten Gold Military Friendly by Victory Media, Best Online Program For Vets by US News And World, and Top School by Military Advanced Education & Transition.