Student Veterans of America
|Purpose||"To provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation."|
President & CEO
|D. Wayne Robinson|
Student Veterans of America (SVA), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on addressing the needs and concerns of American military veterans in higher education. SVA is best known for being an umbrella organization for student veterans' groups that advocates for improvements in veterans educational benefits. Its efforts, combined with other veterans' service organizations, led to passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), a lead sponsor of the legislation, has cited SVA’s efforts as one of the primary reasons the new G.I. Bill was signed into law on June 30, 2008.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 3 Programs & Initiatives
- 4 Board of Directors
- 5 Board of Advisors
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Student Veterans of America’s mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and after graduation. We achieve that mission by providing student veterans with critical programs and services via a campus-based, peer-support network known as the SVA chapter. Since SVA’s founding in 2008, the chapter network has grown from 20 campuses to more than 950 institutions of higher education in all 50 states and three countries overseas.
SVA has two major components: the executive leadership staff at SVA National Headquarters, and the on-campus SVA chapters of student veterans. The local SVA chapters are student groups that have formed on college and university campuses to provide peer-to-peer networks for veterans who are attending those schools. The chapters are designed to be an advocate for student veterans, and to help bridge the campus-to-career transition. They coordinate on-campus and community outreach activities, facilitate pre-professional networking, and provide a touchstone for student veterans in higher education. These SVA chapters are an important part of ensuring that every veteran is successful after their service.
The executive leadership staff, led by President and CEO D. Wayne Robinson, facilitates communication between the SVA chapters, connects them with external resources, and organizes these chapters to advocate at the state and national level for the common needs of student veterans.
Prior to taking the helm at SVA, Robinson served in the U.S. Army and rose to the pinnacle of enlisted ranks as a Command Sergeant Major. During his career he held many leadership positions in Artillery, Special Operations, and Recruiting and graduated from every enlisted leadership course offered by the Army. After his military career, he graduated with an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, where his team won the Global New Venture Challenge. Under his guidance, the chapter network has continued to expand along with the programs that SVA provides.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently highlighted the inextricable link between education and employment in noting that over 60% of all new jobs created from now until 2018 will require a postsecondary degree or credential. Veterans, however, face significant barriers to degree attainment that range from feeling like an outsider on a campus of 18-year-old traditional students to coping with the visible and invisible wounds of war. SVA classifies these barriers into three categories: administrative, reintegration, and academic. Administrative challenges are linked to accessing benefits and navigating campus bureaucracies. Reintegration issues arise as transitioning veterans try to develop a new identity and sense of belonging. Academic struggles typically stem from long periods away from academia due to military service. Vincent Tinto, renowned education researcher, notes that without peer support these challenges can become insurmountable obstacles that lead to isolation and high dropout rates.
In response to the need for a support system for student veterans, SVA chapters continue to emerge, thrive, and serve as the “boots on the ground” to help veterans overcome the many challenges of transitioning from life in the military to life as civilian students. Every chapter of SVA is an officially recognized student organization at that respective institution of higher learning and is run by and for student veterans. SVA chapters do not pay any dues to associate with the national organization and each group is encouraged to utilize national best-practices to address local issues. A recent RAND study noted that 61% of student veterans found the support they received from fellow veterans as “quite or extremely helpful to the pursuit of their educational goals.”  SVA chapters are fulfilling a critical function on hundreds of campuses nationwide.
Student Veterans of America's national office is located in Washington, DC and consists of a number of professional, paid staff members. Professional staff leadership bios and more information on the organization can be found on the Student Veterans of America homepage.
Before the end of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. After demobilizing, returning veterans flooded colleges and universities around the country. Not only did these student veterans face basic challenges associated with reintegrating into civilian life, but schools were unprepared for this influx of students, which led to additional problems for veterans like severe housing shortages and lack of transitional assistance. Student veterans banded together, forming peer-to-peer support networks to overcome these challenges and earn their college degrees.
Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, veterans continued to transition to campus following their military service, albeit in smaller numbers. The revised Montgomery G.I. Bill was offered as a recruitment incentive for the all-volunteer force. Some of the local student veteran groups that formed on campuses after conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, like those at Northern Illinois University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, still exist today.
SVA’s Genesis – The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) (Iraq). As OEF and OIF veterans returned home to use G.I. Bill benefits, they found that their campuses did not provide adequate support services to assist student veterans as they worked towards their educational goals.
Lacking support, student veterans decided to organize on campuses across the country. These groups began to connect with one another through social media - spreading best practices, sharing success stories, and supporting fellow chapters to further strengthen the student veteran community. In 2008, members from roughly 20 schools convened in Chicago to formalize this grassroots movement and found Student Veterans of America.
SVA was officially incorporated between the 18th and 20th of January 2008 to provide programs, resources, and support to the ever-evolving network of local student veteran organizations -- today known as SVA chapters.
Concurrently, SVA and a number of Veteran Service Organizations were tirelessly advocating for an overhaul of the G.I. Bill to address the needs of the 21st Century student veteran. Six months after SVA's founding, President George W. Bush signed into law the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Programs & Initiatives
With nearly 1,000 chapters, SVA has established a number of programs and services to meet the needs of an ever-growing constituency. These programs and services fall into 5 strategic initiatives: 1) Increase Support for Chapters, 2) Invest in Data & Research, 3) Build a Thriving Alumni Network, 4) Invest in High-Impact Partnerships, and 5) Advocate Effectively for Student Veterans. More information on SVA's strategic plan is available on the web.
Increase Support For Chapters
The heart of SVA is the student veteran led chapter. To support this growing network, SVA invests in high-impact programs that sustain chapters and empower student veterans to achieve their academic goals. The main programs for SVA chapters are: the Leadership Institute, Leadership Summits, and Chapter Grants.
The Leadership Institute and Local Leadership Summits use the SVA-MFRI Chapter Success Manual to train chapter leaders how to create business plans for their organizations. SVA’s Chapter Grant program then funds the initiatives outlined in each group’s submitted plan. In conjunction with these activities, SVA also hosts an annual National Conference. While the conference theme changes each year, networking, the sharing of best-practices, and a thriving national community of student veterans always remain constant.
The annual programs are supplemented by scholarship opportunities and initiatives. During the 2013-2014 semesters, SVA offered a variety of scholarship opportunities, including ones for students studying STEM fields, film, and business. Also, SVA and the Home Depot Foundation helped student veterans build Vet Centers - a "home on campus" - with the VetCenter Initiative. Each program aims to help veterans succeed as they transition from their military service into higher education.
SVA also operates the National Veterans Center, located in Washington, DC. NVC provides a diverse calendar of events that empower veterans to access benefits, reintegrate to campus life, succeed in the classroom, and find meaningful careers. To accomplish its mission, NVC provides regular office space for SVA chapters and provides a "safe space" for veterans to study, network, and relax. The National Veterans Center has become a conduit that pairs service providers from the public and private sectors with veterans and military families seeking resources.
Along with chapter organization and funding, SVA partnered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to offer a new program called "1 Student Veteran", which directly connects student veterans who are experiencing problems accessing their G.I. Bill or other earned benefits to a VFW service officer. Student Veterans can email email@example.com for direct assistance.
Invest in Data & Research
Over $23.7 billion has been invested in Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits since 2009. Yet, no organization has tracked the academic outcomes of beneficiaries. No one knows the return on the G.I. Bill investment. This data is absolutely paramount to defending the G.I. Bill from potential cuts and for providing the best services to student veterans.
Million Records Project (MRP)
In an unprecedented public-private partnership, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Student Clearinghouse, and SVA have collaborated to produce the Million Records Project. This ground-breaking research was conducted by collecting information from the VA on nearly one million randomly selected student veterans who were receiving Montgomery or Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits between 2002 and 2010. Records for these student veterans were matched with their corresponding records from NSC, and all personal and institutional identifying information was removed before the records were sent to SVA for analysis.
The Million Records Project (MRP) more accurately determines the graduation rates of G.I. Bill beneficiaries on a national scale for the first time in history. The MRP also yielded additional data points, such as time to completion, drop-out rates, and transfer rates, that paint a holistic picture of how student veterans progress through higher education. This SVA concept was made possible through the generous funding from Google, The Kresge Foundation, and Lumina Foundation.
The impact of this research will be historic. For the first time in over 70 years, service-providers, policy makers, institutions of higher education, and government agencies will be able to make data-driven decisions about how best to allocate resources in support of student veterans. The end result will be more effective programs and services to empower veterans to graduate with degrees and credentials.
Build a Thriving Alumni Network
SVA is founded on the principle of connecting locally with fellow veterans for peer support, and recognizing the value of developing a national professional network. They plan to launch a national alumni network for student veterans by mid-2014. The alumni network will focus on professional development opportunities for any veteran, from any decade, that holds a postsecondary degree or credential. The platform will assist in connecting veterans for the purposes of finding mentors, identifying employment opportunities, landing internships, and social networking.
Invest In High Impact Partnerships
SVA is a network. Networks thrive when information is shared and connections are made. One of our main goals is to connect high-quality service providers to student veterans, thus minimizing some of the noise and clutter that currently exists in the veteran community. Some of our key programmatic partnerships include:
- Purdue University's Military Family Research Institute
- Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University
- Veterans of Foreign Wars
- The American Legion
- American Corporate Partners
- Got Your 6
- Pat Tillman Foundation
- National Coalition for College Completion
- Peer Advisors for Veteran Education
- University of Michigan Health System
- Google, Rockwell Collins, PNC Bank, NBCUniversal, and countless other employers
Advocate Effectively for Student Veterans
Part of SVA’s mission is to advocate for student veterans. We defend the G.I. Bill and support policy that best empowers student veterans to achieve their educational goals. SVA is largely recognized as the organization representing the interests of student veterans and G.I. Bill beneficiaries due to the 950+ SVA chapters on campuses nationwide. The more chapters in the network, the more effective we are at influencing policy on behalf of all student veterans.
At the federal level, SVA has formed a close relationship with the two of America’s largest and most honored Veteran Service Organizations: The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Collectively, we are working on a number of issues, but specifically to reduce G.I. Bill benefit delays, improve access to consumer education tools, and to establish in-state residency status for all G.I. Bill beneficiaries.
SVA also encourages and trains chapters to be advocates on campus to institutionalize programs and policies that support student veterans. Each chapter has the potential to be a catalyst for local change. Great examples of SVA chapters advocating for supportive services include, Florida State University, the University of Arizona, the University of Southern California, and many others.
Student Veterans of America was a leading advocate for reform of GI Bill benefits leading to passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.
On October 28, 2013, the House passed the Veterans' Advisory Committee on Education Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 2011; 113th Congress), a bill that would extend through the end of 2015 the Veterans' Advisory Committee on Education. It would also change the composition of people sitting on that board by including members from more recent wars. Student Veterans of America issued a press release on August 7, 2013, announcing their support for H.R. 2011.
On February 3, 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357; 113th Congress). If enacted, the bill would require states to offer veterans the in-state tuition price instead of the out-of-state tuition price regardless of whether the veteran met the residency requirement. The bill would also make other changes to veterans' benefits. Student Veterans of America supports the bill, arguing that "having that across-the-board ease with all 50 states and the District of Columbia will make it easier for student veterans to figure out how much they will be paying for their college education."
Board of Directors
Rodrigo Garcia, Board Chairman. Mr. Garcia currently serves the State of Illinois as a senior state executive and as a member of the Illinois Cabinet. He was appointed by Governor Pat Quinn on October 11, 2011 and was subsequently confirmed by the Illinois State Senate on November 29, 2011. In this pivotal executive post, Garcia presides as the second-in-command of a state agency with over 1,300+ staff members, a $128 million budget, 80+ statewide offices, numerous program & service divisions, and a senior executive staff. He was named one of the "Top 100 under 50” Executive Leaders by Diversity MBA Magazine and as one of Miller Coors’ nationwide "Hispanic Lideres”, was the recipient of President Obama’s Council on Service and Civic Participation "Call to Service Award”.
Michael R. Lehnert, Vice Chairman. Major General Michael R. Lehnert served as Commanding General, Marine Corps Installations West and graduated from Central Michigan University in 1973 with an undergraduate degree in History. In 1999 he deployed to Panama as the Chief of Staff, Joint Task Force Panama, and oversaw the final turnover of the Panama Canal. After serving for two years as a senior adviser to the Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection, General Lehnert was invited to serve as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow where he lectures on leadership and ethical decision making.
Hon. Charles “Chick” Ciccolella is the President of CSC Group, LLC, a service-disabled veterans owned firm that provides business consulting and advisory services. Additionally, his firm provides organizational and operational assistance to government and non-government entities on programs operated by the Federal government that are related to veterans employment, workforce development, and disability issues in the workplace. Before starting his own business, Chick was the Executive Vice President for Economic Empowerment for the Wounded Warrior Project and the former Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labor, where he was responsible for the programs that help veterans transition from the military to civilian jobs and for protecting their employment and reemployment rights.
Colonel Dave Sutherland was commissioned an Infantry Officer in 1983 and holds a Bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University in History and Economics and a Masters in Strategic Studies. Colonel Sutherland attended all levels of military education including Airborne, Ranger, Jumpmaster, the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, and is a Senior Service College Graduate – Advanced Operational Studies Fellowship. He has served in staff positions at Battalion through Division. Colonel Sutherland last served as the Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with principle focus on Warrior and Family Support.
Dr. Lynda Davis is the Executive Vice President at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Dr. Lynda C. Davis is a nationally recognized leader in the development and implementation of successful, significant, and sustainable programs that support the full spectrum of quality of life support and services for military personnel, veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. Dr. Davis served as deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, deputy assistant secretary of the navy and led the first joint U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) comprehensive care/case management reform in support wounded warriors. A former Army officer and VA clinician, Dr. Davis taught in the Departments of Psychiatry and Public Administration at the University of Southern where she earned a Ph.D. and MPA in Public Administration (Human Services Administration).
Dr. Stephen Weber is the seventh president of San Diego State University. Educated as a philosopher, President Weber assumed his administrative responsibilities at SDSU in July 1996. Among many academic and operational achievements under President Weber’s leadership, SDSU created The Campanile Foundation, the university fundraising auxiliary. President Weber is the past chair of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Board of Directors, and co-chaired Partners for K-12 School Reform. He is the recipient of the San Diego Mediation Center’s Peacemaker’s Award, the San Diego Education Association’s Executive Director’s Award, and the recipient of the Gold Key Award from the San Diego Hospitality Association.
Peter Meijer served as a non-commissioned Army officer in Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2011. Mr. Meijer spent his time in Iraq embedded with the Iraqi Army as a combat advisor at Joint Security Stations in the Baghdad area, conducting bilateral training missions and force protection operations. Mr. Peter Meijer grew up at the center of two family businesses, School Zone Publishing and Meijer, Inc. supercenters. He is also a member of the Cape Eleuthera Island School Alumni Advisory Board and an advisor to the Kettering Foundation and Gerald R. Ford Museum.
Brian Hawthorne, MPS has been serving in the US Army Reserves for more than eight years, with two tours in Iraq. He is currently assigned to the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) as a Jumpmaster and Civil Affairs Team Sergeant. Since coming home from Baghdad in 2008, he has become deeply involved in veterans advocacy and served as SVA’s first Legislative Director. In this capacity, he has testified before Congressional Committees on numerous occasions regarding GI Bill Benefits and the transition from the military to civilian life. For his expertise on the issue, he has been quoted and interviewed by many major news outlets.
Hon. Dan Grant graduated from West Point in 2002 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. In 2004, he deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for one year with the 1st Infantry Division as a Platoon Leader. After leaving the Army, Dan served as Senior Policy Advisor to the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. He was instrumental in developing and testifying on legislation to benefit the military community, veterans, and their families. In February 2009 Illinois Governor Pat Quinn appointed him to his cabinet where he served as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the next two and a half years. Dan received his MBA at Harvard Business School, and is currently a consultant for The Boston Consulting Group in their Detroit office.
Matt Randle served as a Combat Medic (91B) in the United States Army for five years (1998-2003) and was stationed in the Republic of South Korea and Ft. Bliss, TX. In 2007, Mr. Randle pursued his true passion, working with veterans. He began working for the non-profit organization Vets4Vets as their Outreach Director and traveled the country speaking with and for his fellow veterans. He is a member of Representative Giffords' Veteran Advisory Council, Representative Grijalva's Veteran Advisory Council, and is the Co-Chair of the campus Veterans Education and Transition Services. Additionally, he advises the State of Arizona Governor's Council on Veterans' Affairs.
Luke Stalcup, MS enlisted in the Army at 18. He was trained as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist and served in Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq and other areas of Southwest Asia beginning in 2000. He was awarded two Bronze Star Medals with Valor Device for his actions during OIF I, where he served as an EOD Team Leader. In 2008, working with Derek Blumke and Elizabeth O'Herrin, he co-founded Student Veterans of America and worked as the Director of Public Affairs during SVA's campaign for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. He is currently pursuing an MD from the Duke University's School of Medicine and lives in Durham, NC.
Board of Advisors
Geoffrey J. Deutsch, Geoff Deutsch has spent nearly 25 years helping transform large systems for delivering healthcare and human services. Geoff began his career as a "turnaround” executive with international hospital systems, managed care companies and health technology firms, where he established a record of rapid, breakthrough performance improvements. His introduction to the nonprofit sector came when Elizabeth Dole hired him in to help transform the American Red Cross. As a volunteer, Geoff has supported the Presidents and Boards of several national charities, with a focus on applying business principles to the nonprofit sector.
Dr. Bob Ackerman, Dr. Bob Ackerman is professor emeritus of higher and vice president emeritus for student service from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Since 2007, he has conducted research on the transition of veterans from the military to the campus. His co-authored article, published in the NASPA Journal in 2008, and his co-edited book, "Creating Veterans Friendly Campuses: Strategies for transition and success,” were among the earliest scholarly discussions on this important topic. Alongside student veterans and other members of SVA, he presented at numerous national conferences.
Dr. Akosua Barthwell-Evans, Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Barthwell Group, Inc., a multi-faceted management consulting firm specializing in providing strategic management (developing and implementing planning, diversity, branding, and teambuilding strategies), partnership building, and workshops and training seminars to clients throughout the United States.
George W. Casey, Jr., General George W. Casey, Jr. is one of the most accomplished soldiers in U.S. history and an authority on strategic leadership. As the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from April 2007 to 2011, General Casey led what is arguably the world’s largest and most complex organization — 1.1 million people strong, with a $200+ billion annual budget — during one of the most extraordinary periods in military and global political history.
Hendrik "Hank" G. Meijer, Hank Meijer, 60, is Co-Chairman and CEO of Meijer, Inc. in Grand Rapids. He joined the family retail business at the age of 11 as a grocery clerk. After serving as a reporter for a Detroit-area suburban newspaper group, he became editor and later publisher of a weekly newspaper in Plymouth, Mich. He rejoined Meijer in 1979 as assistant advertising director.
Dr. Robert N. Shelton, Dr. Shelton was a guest scientist at both the Kernforschungsanlage in Jűlich, Germany, and of the Japanese government at the Institute of Metals in Tokyo, Japan; and a visiting professor in the Département de Physique de la Matière Condensée, at the Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland. He has been an active and productive scientist whose work has focused on collective electron effects in novel materials. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi, and Phi Beta Kappa.
Valerie J. Van Meter, Valerie is Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the 7th Federal Reserve District. She leads the Central Bank Services division, which includes Discount Window Lending, Payments System Risk, Reserve Accounting, and Statistical and Financial Reporting. In addition, she oversees the Bank’s Finance division, is the director of Minority and Women Inclusion, and is a member of the Bank’s Management Committee.
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- "Media Kit". Student Veterans of America. 26 February 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
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- Tinto, Vincent (26 February 2014). "Student Success, in the Classroom". Inside higher Ed. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- Steele, Jennifer L. (26 February 2014). "RAND Corporation". Service Members in School: Military Veterans' Experiences Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Pursuing Postsecondary Education. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin, The GI Bill: a new deal for veterans (2009) p 118
- "H.R. 2011 - Summary". United States Congress. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
- "SVA Supports Committee to Improve Veterans' Education and Job Training". Student Veterans of America. 7 August 2013. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
- Kasperowicz, Pete (3 February 2014). "House votes to give vets in-state tuition rates". The Hill. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
- "H.R. 357 - Summary". United States Congress. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Smola, Jenn (11 November 2013). "States fight for in-state tuition for student veterans". USA Today. Retrieved 5 February 2014.