Meeting the Needs of Student Veterans
In its first membership drive this year, the Student Veterans Association of Walden University (SVA-WU) recruited more than 450 members. Dr. Sheryl Kristensen, SVA-WU’s faculty advisor and PhD in Management faculty member, believes one key reason for the growth in membership is because serving in the military is such a unique experience and those individuals want to connect with each other.
“Active student veterans associations are important because they can serve as an additional advocate or voice for students and alumni who are actively serving or discharged,” says Dr. Kristensen, who also served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst and German linguist. “Military-affiliated individuals are natural social change agents because they already chose a path that is greater than they are. Walden’s SVA does a good job of aligning with the university’s mission and vision on effecting positive social change.”
The SVA-WU’s goal is to help veterans succeed in higher education, achieve their academic goals, and gain meaningful employment. Walden’s chapter represents all branches of the armed forces and works to ensure student veterans feel supported, heard, and connected with the university. In addition to student members, Walden’s chapter welcomes faculty and staff, as well as honorary members including spouses, children, and others who support the military community.
“We want to help all student veterans succeed in their academics so they can pursue their life goals,” says Paige Zeiger, SVA-WU’s interim president and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision student. “We know student veterans are a culturally different population than their civilian counterparts, and that’s why it’s critical for our association to provide the community support, research, and resources needed to transition from the military and be successful at Walden.”
Zeiger says one focus of the newly formed organization is to make sure student veterans know about the various Walden resources available to them. This includes Military Services, Student Wellness and Disability Services, and Student Success Advising, as well as the Career Planning and Development Center and the Writing Center. For example, after student veterans register with Student Wellness and Disability Services, they can receive accommodations as needed.
“Sometimes it can be hard for student veterans to ask for help, or they may not even realize they have a disability of some sort that can be accommodated through Student Wellness and Disability Services,” says Zeiger. “It’s important to provide them with the support they need to achieve success, and, in turn, they should know Walden is here to help with any issues or concerns.”
In addition to connecting veterans with Walden support services, the SVA-WU serves as a way to link military students so they can provide peer-to-peer support and be empowered to achieve academic success through shared experiences. Zeiger mentions there are a lot of challenges associated with transitioning from military to civilian life.
“Student veterans who share their experiences and feedback with Walden support staff and SVA-WU honorary members help them learn more about military culture and their specific needs,” says Zeiger. “This understanding is critical to ensuring student veterans have access to the right resources to be successful in their academic pursuits and life thereafter.”
Dr. Kristensen adds, “Student veterans associations can identify opportunities that are outside the scope and bandwidth of existing services at a university. Furthermore, the Walden chapter is affiliated with the Student Veterans of America, which provides additional support such as resources, training, networking, and legislative initiatives.”
Unlike other student organizations, the SVA-WU must account for spur-of-the-moment leadership changes due to individuals being deployed for military obligations. In an effort to ensure sustainability, one strategy officers put in place was to create subcommittees related to membership, social change, and communication.
“This strategy reduces the workload and provides all SVA-WU members the opportunity to volunteer their time and experience, thus adding to the voice of the Walden University military community,” says Dr. Kristensen.
In fall 2018, Zeiger volunteered to become the interim president and successfully modified the bylaws and solidified the first strategic plan. Working with Military Services and Student Affairs, Zeiger also oversaw the creation of the SVA-WU Facebook page. Zeiger attributes her success to her time in the Navy, where she learned a lot about teamwork and leadership, skills she uses every single day in her civilian life.
“I’ve never served in a student organization before, so it’s all a new experience for me,” says Zeiger. “I also don’t think I could lead Walden’s chapter without the skills, knowledge, and tools I’ve gained as part of my doctoral program thus far.”
Collectively, the organization’s officers helped bring about the adoption of red, white, and blue cords that SVA-WU members can wear at graduation and are working on a podcast to highlight their experiences and unique expertise. They are hoping to launch more initiatives to further integrate military students into the Walden experience and increase membership.
Walden military students interested in joining the Student Veterans Association of Walden University can apply here.