First-ever Veterans Symposium explores value of veterans


Campus. Career. Community.

That’s the focus of CSU’s first-ever Veterans Symposium, an event that creates an educational forum and dialogue for higher education faculty, staff and students; Northern Colorado businesses; and veteran service providers.

The symposium will explore the value and challenges veterans experience; identify, discuss, and develop ways to address these challenges; and identify collaborations with other agencies in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to assist veterans in maximizing their potential.

“We are excited to bring together members from college campuses, businesses and our communities to learn from the presenters and each other about the value of those who have served or are continuing to serve this nation,” said Jenny Pickett, director of Adult Learner and Veteran Services and retired U.S Air Force colonel. “As the U.S. military is drawing down in numbers, our communities have a great opportunity to welcome them as valuable collaborators and future leaders.”

The two-day symposium begins Oct. 30 with a keynote address by D. Wayne Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Student Veterans of America.

During his military career, Robinson held many leadership positions in Artillery, Special Operations, and Recruiting, and graduated from every enlisted leadership course offered by the Army. He has more than 39 awards recognizing his contributions to multiple units, as well as actions taken during combat, including the Order of Saint Barbara, the Glen E. Morrell Medallion, and the Meritorious Service Medal (6th award). He has served in more than 12 countries around the world.

As one of GI Jobs’ top military-friendly schools, CSU is committed to supporting those who’ve served through a variety of programs and services, including the New Start Program; the Liniger Honor, Service & Commitment Scholarships; Veterans Educational Benefits Office; Office of Adult Learner and Veteran Services; and the Yellow Ribbon Program in addition to other discounts for military continuing their education. There also are numerous other initiatives available within CSU’s colleges and divisions.


Highlighted sessions

RallyPoint/6: As Washington’s largest resource center for transitioning service members, National Guard and reservists, veterans and military family support, this session describes the organization’s work in addition to making recommendations for replicating these programs across the country.

Five Keys to Leveraging Your Veteran Workforce:  This session focuses on building and leveraging veterans in the workforce and in higher education through a level of military cultural competence. Having a military cultural competency is the basis for developing successful veteran transition programs and increasing your return on investment.

Student Veteran Panel: Student veterans from CSU and the University of Northern Colorado will discuss their experiences, accomplishments and recommendations in the college setting, in the community and as they plan for their careers.

Register for the Veterans Symposium. [/third_paragraph][/row]

From active duty to active advocate

Marc Barker is just one of many on campus advocating for veterans. His role and what he does for these students, however, is probably one of the most important parts of helping veterans continue their education.

Barker works in CSU’s Office of Veterans Education and Benefits certifying more than 1,000 veterans for the GI Bill and more than 200 on active duty for tuition assistance through the university. In fact, it’s this office that serves as a link between the student and the benefit.

“We monitor and track all proposed state and federal legislation related to benefits,” said Barker. “There are always changes and proposed changes to these major legislative programs.”

It’s a job he doesn’t take lightly.

“I am a product of the GI Bill, myself. I have a keen understanding of what these vets are going through, and am keenly aware of the sacrifices they’ve made,” Barker said. “I have lived it. That’s what drives me – motivates me – every single day to do what we do.”

Prior to arriving at CSU in 2012, Barker was the director of the Hopkinsville Community College campus in Fort Campbell, Ky., where he was instrumental in developing a higher education program for wounded soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion.  This program became a model program for WTB units Army-wide.  Barker also established the first veteran student service center in the Army’s Glen English Education Center on Fort Campbell.

Throughout his career in higher education, Barker has been persistent in his advocacy for veteran and military students.  He has provided testimony to the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee on the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and is currently working on legislation to enhance veterans’ education benefits through his role as the legislative director for the National Association of Veteran Program Administrators.

“Our office works with Rick Torres’s to develop best practices in tracking veteran outcomes on campus,” said Barker. “Currently, there are different cohorts that are tracked through the National Student Clearinghouse, but veterans has never been its own cohort.”

By doing so, he says, universities can identify best practices for helping veterans succeed in college and obtain their degree.

From service to startup: Marine-turned-Ram

The path from a career as a U.S. Marine to creating a new startup company is forged one step at a time. Nathan Saam’s path took him through Colorado State University’s College of Business.

Saam, 34, served as an active duty Marine from 2000 to 2005 and spent time serving in the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He also served in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 2007-2013.

After separating from military duty, he knocked out perquisites at Front Range Community College before entering CSU. He graduated in Fall 2013 with a degree in business management with a focus on organizational and innovation management.

“Going to classroom ‘duty’ from active duty was kind of awkward,” Saam said.

With the support of CSU’s Office of Adult Learner and Veteran Services, Saam found his way.

“CSU was really inviting,” he said, noting that starting college at a nontraditional age added to a new dynamic to learning. “It’s different going to school when you are 30 than when you are 18.”

Saam admitted to not being the best student in high school, but making full use of the resources provided to him through ALVS and CSU, he graduated fourth in his class.

Now Saam is working with the Venture Accelerator program at CSU’s College of Business to get his dream company off the ground. His business has a prototype bike helmet designed to reduce concussions through an environmentally friendly composite shell.

Supporting veterans becoming students

Donna Chapel and her husband, Tom, are proof that two people really can make a difference. The couple, having raised one son who served in the Marine Corps and a daughter who teaches, have set out to establish a primary access point for veteran services and are organizing a new fundraiser aimed at helping veterans get through college.

“We have always believed that education is the most important investment a person can make,” said Donna Chapel. “We’ve supported many great charitable endeavors, but we also wanted to make a gift that would continue long after we are gone. We established one scholarship to benefit combat veterans as a way to honor Josh, our son’s, service. A second was created to benefit future teachers, honoring our daughter, Jessica.”

But they felt there is still more to be done.

“Several veteran service providers are looking to establish a single-entry, no-barrier access point for veterans to allow better understanding and utilization of the services available to them,” she said. “One goal is to gauge the gaps and overlaps between needs and services available.”

One veteran gap that currently exists involves younger veterans and their access to education benefits, according to Chapel. Often, there can be waits of up to three months between the time a veteran applies for the GI Bill and when he or she actually receives the payments.

“This can create tremendous hardship for a young veteran, who may also be needing to support a family,” Chapel explained. “Short-term, interest-free loans would eliminate tremendous stress and worry.”

Kicking off Nov. 8, Rotary Club of Fort Collins’ fundraiser, They Said Yes, is an online auction of goods and services from local businesses. The fundraiser will help establish endowed Finish Line scholarships at CSU to help veterans move on to their new chosen career.  Chapel was a key implementer of this campaign, also engaging organizations such as the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundation of Northern Colorado and United Way of Larimer County.

“Only about 1 percent of citizens serve and bear the heavy cost of our freedom,” Chapel said. “To welcome them home and to help them adapt seems an appropriate way to say thank you for their service.”