Student veterans group honored with national award
By Taylor Dobbs, News Staff
Student Veterans of America, a national advocacy group for veterans on the country’s campuses, named Northeastern’s veterans group Chapter of the Year at its annual conference in Orlando, Fla. last weekend.
Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization (SVO), launched years ago to advocate for the needs of the many veterans attending Northeastern, was recognized for its ability to work cooperatively with members, the Northeastern community and university administrators to make the campus more friendly to veterans attending school after serving in the armed forces.
“Northeastern [SVO] just really has a strong presence in their community and I think that they’re recognizable by all different parts of the community,” said Alyssa Meza, communications associate for Student Veterans of America (SVA).
The Northeastern group’s initiatives include a new veterans resource center in the Forsyth Building that will serve as a space for the university’s almost 350 identified student veterans.
“We’ve also got a program called the educational outreach program where any professor, if they choose, can come to the Student Veterans Organization and have a veteran come to their class and speak about the various issues facing veterans,” said Michael Trudeau, president of SVO. “The reason why we made that program is because there is the disconnect between the general student population and the veterans’ population.”
When the Student Veterans Organization started in the 2009-2010 school year, the administration asked Andy McCarty, a veteran and Northeastern alumnus who works in Student Financial Services, to help the student veterans get started. At that point, students and administrators alike – and even some student veterans – weren’t aware how many veterans were on campus. Only those who self-identified as veterans or claimed veterans benefits were counted.
Since then, and especially in the past year, McCarty said, the veterans community has become stronger and more visible on campus. McCarty said monthly meetings helped administrators see the demand for a Veterans Services Representative on campus to help veterans with the unique aspects of their college experience, such as making sure their G.I. Bill benefits make their way to Student Financial Services and going through the tedious college application process.
“The SVO has helped in keeping a light on the issues,” he said. “We meet monthly with the SVO and some of the people on the staff here, the administration, and sometimes they’ll tell us a need that they have … and we suspected that a veterans representative would be necessary, but we didn’t know how badly it was needed until we met with them.”
In the fall McCarty’s job description got a bit longer when he was hired as the veterans services representative.
As the SVO was commended in front of 600 peers and veterans advocates last weekend on those and other accomplishments, the group hopes to keep growing and improving.
One of their initiatives in coming months will be to get a more structured system in place for identifying and tracking veterans through their time at Northeastern. In the past, only veterans who claimed benefits or self-identified have been counted. There could be many more on campus that neither the SVO nor the administration is aware of, and Trudeau hopes to seek them out.
“Some veterans on campus don’t even know we exist, so we need to do a little more outreach,” he said.
But at the administrative level, the university’s system for tracking veterans is improving as well. Instead of waiting for veterans to identify themselves, the admissions office is beginning to ask prospective students about their veteran status, and McCarty is working to make sure there is a way to code student files so it is clear who the veterans are.
McCarty also said women who served in the armed forces tend to self-identify in smaller numbers than men, and encourages Northeastern’s female veterans, whether they experienced combat or served in support roles, to engage with the veteran community.
Nationally, there is a push to increase the accountability of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which paid out more than $8 billion to 555,329 veterans for college expenses in the 2011 fiscal year. So far, no statistics have been gathered to track graduation rates among veterans using the aid, and Trudeau says he hopes to put Northeastern ahead of the curve by implementing a better veterans database at the university.