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Jill Biden Asks Student Veterans to Take Active Roles in Their Communities at 2021 Student Veterans of America National Conference
A key opportunity for the student experience, Syracuse University student veterans attended the 13th annual Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference (NATCON) virtually on Feb. 19 and 20. The two-day event featured a keynote address by the first lady of the United States, Jill Biden, and several presentations and panel discussions by members of the University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA) and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).
NATCON illuminated important challenges to a successful transition from military service. Day one covered steps in finding the right position and translating military occupations into marketable skills. Day two was dedicated to addressing issues related to inclusion and the importance of allyship. The SVA’s conference overarching theme, “Leaning Forward Together,” implored student veterans to continue serving in their new roles in their communities and workplaces.
Biden talked about her experience as a military family, and how her father’s service in World War II changed the course of her life. “He, and the men he fought beside, made our world a safer and more just place,” said Biden. “As a teacher myself, I have taught many veterans transitioning from military service, worried they would not adjust to civilian life…I’ve seen them not only adjust but thrive and become leaders in their communities.”
Syracuse’s Student Veterans Organization (SVO) was selected as one of the four SVA Chapter of the Year finalists. Though many of the SVO’s usual activities were suspended due to COVID-19, the chapter was selected based on several accomplishments, like working in research labs conducting COVID testing and organizing awareness campaigns for veterans suicide in the local community.
SVO President Charlie Poag says he is proud that members received this recognition. “The Syracuse University SVO is successful because we have an overwhelmingly supportive campus environment and surrounding community,” says Poag. All students are welcome to join if they wish to be involved with supporting veterans. “For our military-connected population, the SVO can provide camaraderie and ease the transition into the academic environment after military service. For all other students, the SVO provides an opportunity to not only support our veteran population in Central New York but also get hands-on experience engaging with different organizations and building strong networks with dedicated people.”
University leaders conducted three sessions at the conference. Rosalinda Maury, IVMF’s director of applied research and analytics, and Jennifer Pluta, OVMA’s assistant director of veteran career services, presented how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the employment landscape for veterans. Maury also hosted a breakout session with Mirza Tihic, a member of the IVMF research and analytics team, as well as a postdoctoral researcher in the Whitman School of Management. Maury and Tihic discussed resources, tools and programs needed to support and enhance veteran entrepreneurs. IVMF Director of the Entrepreneurship and Small Business Portfolio Misty Fox participated in a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and how veterans can access information, resources and capital through the public, non-profit and private sectors.
“The opportunities for meaningful networking that the annual SVA NATCON brings to our student veterans are exceptionally informative and impactful. This national gathering is something our SVO members look forward to every year. It is a chance for our student veterans to connect with other SVA chapters from all over the country and learn best practices from them as well as network with employers for job and internship opportunities,” says OVMA Executive Director Ron Novack. “This annual conference is also an opportunity for Syracuse University as an R1 research institution to present its research results to help assist the work of other attending universities who are also committed to supporting veterans and their families post-service.”
SVA’s National Conference annually attracts 2,000 student veterans, advocates, thought leaders, stakeholders and supporters in higher education. “The President and I have always believed that our nation has a sacred obligation to equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families both while they serve and when they come home,” said Biden during her keynote address. “And we know when you have the chance to succeed, you lift up those around you as well, whether that’s your fellow student veterans, your families or your communities.”