Eric Watson ’91 wasn’t envisioning himself as a U.S. Marine Corps aviator when he first came to Syracuse University. The Washington D.C., native originally intended on studying computer science, but as is the case with many college students, Watson realized…
Military-Connected Students Attend 15th Annual Student Veterans of America National Conference
A group of 14 military-connected students were in Florida earlier this month at the Walt Disney World Resort to attend the Student Veterans of America 15th Annual National Conference (NATCON). Additionally, eight staff members from the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs and the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families attended the conference, which boasts the largest gathering for the military-connected community within higher education.
The students were mostly from the Student Veterans Organization, the University’s official student association focused on support, advocacy and camaraderie for the campus military-connected community.
The conference serves as an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of student veterans and their advocates in higher education, but the schedule-packed days also afford opportunities to speak with veteran-inclusive companies and advocacy organizations, and even express their support or concern for future legislation impacting the military community.
Cadets from the University’s two Reserve Officer Training Corps detachments were also given the opportunity to take part in the unique student experience. As future military officers, they received exposure to the broad range of programs and services that will be available to them and their future subordinates upon separation from the military.
“Student Veterans of America’s National Conference kicks off a new year for student veterans, military-connected students, survivors and those who support them, and provides a unique opportunity for employers looking to empower this incredibly talented population,” says Student Veterans of America National President and CEO Jared Lyon. “This year’s 15th Annual celebration marks a legacy of leadership, opportunity and service that will reverberate for years to come.”
To attend NATCON, the students applied for one of the conference tickets the OVMA provides each year. Thanks to donations to the Veterans Legacy Fund, the OVMA covers the cost of conference registration, airfare and lodging for a certain number of Syracuse University students each year.
Many military-connected students attend NATCON to speak to a banquet hall full of companies looking to hire veterans, veteran services organizations educating about their services and advocacy groups seeking input on current legislation for policies impacting veterans. For those students who are members of the SVO’s executive board, going to NATCON also includes an opportunity to gain valuable lessons on running a students veteran organization on campus.
“A big moment for me was during one of the breakout sessions. I realized before looking onward to after graduating from Maxwell and Whitman next year that there are several ways in which I can serve my community right here in Syracuse, beyond the SVO or being an EMT,” says Anthony Ruscitto G’22, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the president of Syracuse University’s SVO.
“The best aspect of the conference this year was the student veterans and staff we took though. Each of us are different in ways beyond just our service branch. We all had different career goals and background but definitely grew a lot closer and learned more about each other over the week. I’d recommend every SU student veteran apply to go every year, if possible,” Ruscitto says.
In addition to being the SVO’s president, Ruscitto, a graduate student with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, was among the eight finalists in the running for Student Veteran of the Year this year. While a student from Loyola University walked away with the top honors this year, Ruscitto did have a unique opportunity that most college students would never experience.
“The most significant and certainly most exciting moment was being able to address the entire conference and formally introduce Denis McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” says Ruscitto. “It was a humbling and very rewarding experience to be recognized, I can’t believe where I am today after looking back at the last four years.”
Ruscitto and other student veterans also sat down with the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to discuss the challenges facing veterans in higher education. Student veterans at Syracuse University enjoy a high level of support, due largely to Chancellor Kent Syverud declaring that supporting veterans would be a University initiative during his inaugural address. The University is often used as an example on best practices for educating veterans.
“Speaking as a second-year Ph.D. student at Maxwell, I can confirm that Syracuse University is a truly remarkable place for veterans,” said Lyon, who in addition to being the SVA’s president is also pursuing a doctoral degree in social science with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “So, it was no surprise that one of Syracuse University’s very own, Anthony Ruscitto, was honored as a Student Veteran of the Year finalist at the SVA Honors Luncheon, amongst so many exceptional student veterans present.”
One of the reasons NATCON draws such a large attendance each year is the opportunity to learn about the latest programs and resources available for student veterans and the military-community.
Members from the D’Aniello Institute’s Research and Data Analytics team presented their latest findings and publications directly to the audience their research impacts the most, while representatives from the OVMA shared their knowledge and experience with other chapters through presentations and guided discussions.
Syracuse University staff members who participated in the conference were Melissa Bird, IVMF, project manager, entrepreneurship; Linda Rougeau Euto, IVMF, associate director, research and evaluation; Misty Fox, IVMF, director of entrepreneurship and small business; Rosalinda Vasquez-Maury, IVMF, director of applied research and analytics; Ron Novack (retired U.S. Army colonel), Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, executive director; Jennifer Pluta, Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, director of Veteran Career Services; Grace Swinnerton, IVMF, visiting librarian; and Mirza Tihic, Martin J. Whitman School of Management, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship
Novack is no stranger to NATCON, and over the years he has contributed his extensive knowledge on how SVA chapters can make their fundraising efforts more effective. He’s not only seen firsthand how much the event has grown in size over the years, but he’s also been a part of making Syracuse University’s presence at NATCON so impactful.
“Syracuse University has historically enjoyed a large presence at NATCON every year because we have been in the veterans education space for decades,” says Novack. “Schools that are just getting started with their student veterans initiatives look to us and seek out our knowledge, and our experience. We stand out because our university stands behind us, and that’s what makes Syracuse the Best place for Veterans.”
The 16th Annual NATCON is scheduled to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, from Jan. 4-6, 2024. Military-connected students interested in attending NATCON should sign up for OVMA’s newsletter to stay informed on application deadlines and information sessions. Those interested in supporting student veterans at Syracuse University should visit the Veteran Legacy Fund, and help continue Syracuse University’s tradition of service to veterans and military students.