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Undergraduate Internship Award Provides Student Veterans With ‘Pathway to Employment’
When a national survey by Student Veterans of America showed that the No. 1 concern of student veterans is the lack of internships, Ron Novack and Jennifer Pluta from Syracuse University’s Office of Veterans and Military Affairs (OVMA) decided they wanted to do something to change that.
Novack, the OVMA’s executive director, and Pluta, the assistant director of Veteran Career Services, first looked at the University’s student veterans and found that only 6 to 8 percent of the undergraduate population were participating in summer internships. This was a concern since OVMA’s charge is to help student veterans find the right jobs following graduation and internships are a crucial component of their job search.
“The national barriers in the Student Veterans of America study hit home here,” Novack says. “We started thinking about how to reallocate funding to change our student’s thinking from self-elimination—I can’t do this—to now allowing our student veterans to consider internships as a serious option.”
As a result of their efforts, Novack and Pluta have introduced the first OVMA Student Veteran Undergraduate Internship Award that is open to all full- and part-time undergraduate student veterans. The annual award will provide financial assistance to undergraduate student veterans during the summer semester, when internships are most prevalent.
The first application period is now open and extends through Feb. 15. Novack, who served 33 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a colonel in 2015, says the award is funded through the generous donors who contribute to the OVMA Veteran Legacy Fund and will be a “game-changer” for undergraduate student veterans at Syracuse.
“This award speaks to the collaborative effort on the whole of the University to make Syracuse the best place for veterans,” Novack says. “I tip my hat to Jennifer for pulling this together and our generous Veteran Legacy Fund donors who allow us to identify gaps, be creative and apply the resources to give our student veterans even more opportunities.”
Pluta’s position was created in 2015 to assist Chancellor Kent Syverud’s initiative to support veterans. Unlike other college career services departments where veterans are included with other students, Pluta is dedicated solely to student veterans.
When looking at the issue of internships, Pluta says she remembers one recent student veteran who was offered an internship offer in New York City. But that student veteran faced several barriers: How do I carry my lease in Syracuse and sublet in the city? Where do I put my car? What about my dog?
“Most traditional students can go back home over the summer,” Pluta says. “But for many student veterans, there is no back home. They may already have a family and need to pay for rent, utilities and food, and since non-paid internships are common you can see why a veteran is less likely to do an internship.”
Novack points out that the three top areas on the East Coast for internships are New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston—three of the most expensive cities to live in. And while student veterans receive stipends through the GI Bill, they would need to take classes over the summer to maintain that stipend during the summer months.
“If they have to make a decision between doing this internship or taking a financial hit, particularly if the student veteran has a family, on balance the family side wins out every time,” Novack said. “This fund provides an option and an opportunity that might not otherwise exist.”
The internship award is the latest initiative by the OVMA, which serves as the University’s single point of entry for all veteran and military-connected students. The OVMA’s mission is to support student veterans by assisting with their veteran educational benefits and work-study programs and providing an opportunity for student veterans to build community in conjunction with the Student Veterans Organization.
Under Pluta’s direction, OVMA’s career services department has reached 100 percent job placement for student veterans for four consecutive years. And now the internship award will enable a student veteran to land an otherwise unattainable internship that could lead to the veteran’s dream job.
“The No. 1 reason that student veterans go to college, as opposed to going directly into the workforce, is to obtain a degree to get a new career,” Pluta said. “By providing financial assistance for internships, we are supporting student veterans’ career pathways to employment.”
How To Apply and Support the Veteran Legacy Fund
Student veterans can learn more about the application process and apply on the Handshake website.
For questions, please email Pluta at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who are interested in learning more about how to make an impact on the life of a student veteran by providing the financial means for an internship, please visit the Veteran Legacy Fund webpage.