Winning as a team: CSU named Student Veterans of America Chapter of the Year

Student veterans accepting SVA Chapter of the Year

Twenty-two members of the CSU chapter of Student Veterans of America, and their advisers,
traveled to Los Angeles to accept the honor of being named Chapter of the Year.

At most of the country’s college campuses, student veterans tend to keep to themselves. They’re older than most of their fellow students and, after experiencing life in the Armed Forces, have vastly differently world views than traditional students.

At Colorado State University, however, student veterans have become a vital part of the campus landscape. And that’s why Student Veterans of America chose CSU’s campus veterans group as its Chapter of the Year at the organization’s recent conference in Los Angeles.

“We have worked very hard for more than a year toward a goal of being the best chapter in the nation,” said Josh Johnson, chapter president. “To bring 22 of our student veterans to the national conference, representing Colorado State as the premier destination for student veterans, and hear our names called as Chapter of the Year was the single greatest accomplishment of our time at CSU. I can tell you, winning as a team is far better than winning as an individual.”

CSU beat out more than 1,500 other on-campus SVA chapters for the honor, including fellow finalists Old Dominion University, University of Washington-Tacoma, CUNY Medgar Evers College and Northeastern University.

Being named Chapter of the Year caps a remarkable stretch for CSU and its commitment to student veterans. In November, Military Times listed CSU second in the nation in its annual Best for Vets rankings, and the long-awaited addition to existing space for the Adult Learner and Veteran Services office – funded by voluntary student fees – will begin to take shape this year.

Military Intelligence: CSU finds the value in all student veterans

Visibility for veterans

But Johnson, a senior majoring in industrial and organizational psychology in the College of Natural Sciences, wanted more. He wanted student veterans to become more visible on campus – to join more campus organizations, to take an active role in student government and become more involved in the community.

Working with other chapter officers and Marc Barker, director of Adult Learner and Veteran Services, CSU has a vibrant, thriving community of student-veterans operating a “value-based model” that focuses on the students’ strengths rather than perceived weaknesses.

Johnson, who has served two terms as a senator in Associated Students of CSU and even ran for student body president last year, has used his influence in student government to shine a light on the more than 1,200 veterans on campus and the positive impact they make.

“We’ve worked hard for two years to change the reputation of student veterans on this campus,” he said. “We’ve built extremely strong relationships with campus partners, administration, faculty and student government and become much more visible on campus. The most important outcome was educating students about the need for more space in the ALVS and convincing them to tax themselves to make it happen. I truly believe that campus leadership and student government have ultimate respect for us.”

One of the signature achievements of CSU’s SVA chapter was the creation of Operation Bear Hug, a unique 5K event that features a number of physical challenges for participants. Operation Bear Hug was designed to create awareness about suicide among veterans to raise money for support programs. Other schools throughout the country are now starting their programs.

“This is an incredible group of students, led by Josh and his other remarkable officers,” said Maggie Walsh,  CSU’s chapter advisor. “They really demonstrate a commitment to each other’s success and a dedication to serving the entire CSU community. For our chapter to be recognized nationally for its leadership, service and academics is well-deserved – and probably not surprising to anyone who has interacted with them.”

Student veterans moving truck tire

Just one of the physical challenges that were part of the Operation Bear Hug event.