Salute to USD's Military and Veterans Program Successes

Salute to USD's Military and Veterans Program Successes

Amanda Etter answers a popular question asked by many these last few months with a popular refrain.

"It has been a hectic time, there have been some challenges and it has made us rethink some things,” says Etter, director of the University of San Diego’s Military and Veterans Program since 2017.

While most would agree her answer centers on what we’ve all had to adapt to — the COVID-19 pandemic — you’d be half right. USD and all higher education institutions made the unprecedented decision to move all academic operations to remote learning and sent all students off campus in March to complete the spring semester.

Yes, it’s been hectic. Yes, there have been challenges. But what Etter and her staff mean by “rethinking” is always on how to best serve a nearly 800 military-connected student population at USD.

Etter, a Marine Corps veteran herself, appreciates the work of Nelson Chase, a V.A. benefits coordinator; Meredith Mendez, a graduate assistant and outreach and events specialist; Laura Folsom, a military-connected Hub coordinator and the military-connected population.

"I think we've really learned and have gotten to know our student population better,” she said. “We’re understanding what's most meaningful to them.”

During the pandemic, scheduling virtual town hall meetings, a USD Military-Connected Hub workshop with faculty called “Train Your Brain,” additional mental, physical and nutritional wellness events, having guest speakers and more has serves the community well. The Military and Veterans Program website has a link for resources and updates about COVID-19.

Furthermore, the spring semester has seen many positive developments for the program, including key support from university and student leadership with these actions:

• The Yellow Ribbon program at USD, effective in the 2020-21 academic year, has eliminated a financial gap in tuition and mandatory fees for eligible military-connected students. This decision applies to students using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, including veterans, dependents' children and spouses pursuing and undergraduate degree at USD.

• The USD Associated Students Government Senate passed a resolution to recommend Veterans Day (Nov. 11) be adopted into USD's academic calendar as a holiday. It still needs approval from high-level administrators and USD’s Board of Trustees, but Etter appreciates that this action was presented by USD student government leaders.

• The Military-Connected Hub is an approved and funded initiative that aligns with the strategic goal to Amplify Local and Global Engagement and Reputation at USD. In doing so, it attends to all five goals of USD’s strategic plan for Envisioning 2024. It establishes a hub to address the needs of the military-connected community and deepen the work of various entities around the USD campus. Etter and Folsom presented an update on the hub’s progress at the recent Confronting Humanities’ Urgent Challenges Summit.

This momentum fortifies USD’s military-connected population. But the best indicator comes from what is being accomplished this month. The class of 2020 cohort numbers 278 military-connected graduates. The degree breakdown has 108 undergraduate, 138 graduate, 16 doctoral and 16 in law.

"They've been an amazing group to work with,” Etter said. “It's the first full cycle of students I've seen, from orientation and being engaged start to finish. It's been a transformational group. They've been in fraternities and sororities, in Associated Students, they've done school projects and research. To see them grow, that's what higher education can do. They've all had the drive to succeed. They had a mission and they are accomplishing it."

Due to the pandemic, the program could not host its annual in-person graduation recognition ceremony aboard the USS Midway in San Diego. Etter is working on a date this fall to recognize the graduates and has been busy ordering graduation stoles. In the meantime, there are more opportunities for this population to shine.

The USD Alumni Veteran Network is hosting a 5x5: Leading Through Crisis virtual event on Zoom from 2-3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 3. Learn more about and consider joining the USD Alumni Veterans Network, too.

In lieu of not having official USD Commencement ceremonies this month, the USD Military and Veterans Program is encouraging its 2020 graduates to consider participating in the national Student Veterans of America organization's virtual ceremony, Home with the Brave: A Graduation Salute, on June 12 at 6 p.m. Eastern / 3 p.m. Pacific time.

— Ryan T. Blystone

The Military and Veterans Program celebrated current students and alumni at the 2019 Veterans Day ceremony. The program has made progress this year, especially this semester, with campus-wide support.The Military and Veterans Program celebrated current students and alumni at the 2019 Veterans Day ceremony. The program has made progress this year, especially this semester, with campus-wide support.

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