One of the primary goals for the Toolkit is to create a collaborative learning environment in which faculty, staff, and administrators have the opportunity to share experiences, struggles, and victories in their journey of finding best practices for serving student veterans. To foster this learning environment, ACE has decided to highlight a participating institution in every newsletter.
In this edition, Todd Kennedy, Veterans Coordinator at San Diego State University, answers our questions and offers insight into the institution's highly successful Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center.
Tell us a little about your program and its history.
Prior to 2000, San Diego State University (SDSU) provided support to its military-connected students at a “walk-up window” within the Office of the Registrar. The office was staffed by a Veterans Coordinator and one U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Work-Study Program student employee. Over the ensuing eight years, an Assistant Veterans Coordinator position was added along with a half-time Veterans Assistant and a few more work-study students.
Beginning in 2006, the veteran population on our campus increased significantly and saw the genesis of the Student Veteran Organization (SVO); the recognized “cultural” student organization for the military-affiliated student population. Additionally, and with SDSU support, the veterans services “window” moved into its first fully dedicated Veterans Center in July 2008 – the first of its kind in the 23 campus California State University system. This provided a space the military-connected population could call their own. The center consisted of a lobby area, three workspaces, an office, and a lounge for students to utilize before, between, and after classes. An “open house” celebration was held in September 2008, and through generous support from then President Stephen Weber, a flag-pole was erected next to the building for the exclusive use of military-connected students.
In 2009, SDSU opened the first dedicated Student Veterans House of its kind in the nation. As an “extension” of the Veterans Center, the House offers military-affiliated students additional space for studying and networking, and provides the SVO a dedicated facility in which to conduct meetings and host special events.
As the active duty, veteran, and dependent populations increased at SDSU, the Veterans Center rapidly outgrew its space and a new, larger area was provided by the university in October 2010. The center moved into the Student Services West building; a beautiful location in the heart of the campus, near our bookstore and other administrative areas, which is indicative of the support SDSU provides its military-connected population. The new center came with more offices, a larger lobby, and a bigger lounge area. The center became affectionately known as “The Bunker” and the flag-pole was repositioned next to the building.
Also in 2010, SDSU was chosen by the VA as one of the first three institutions to host the pilot VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) program. This innovative venture placed a full-time VA counselor within the Veterans Center to provide direct support to the military-affiliated population, significantly increasing access to VA-related programs. With more than 90 new sites across the country, the VSOC partnership between the VA and SDSU continues to be a model program nationwide.
In November 2010, a Veterans Center Grand Opening was held following a generous gift from Ambassador Charles Hostler and his wife Chinyeh. In recognition of their kind donation, the center’s conference room was dedicated and named “The Ambassador Charles Hostler Conference Room.”
The generous support provided to the SDSU military-connected population was evident again in April 2011, when Joan and Art Barron – Art being a Navy veteran and retired Time Warner executive and both being SDSU alums – gifted $1 million to the SDSU military and veteran program. In gratitude, a renaming ceremony was held and the Veterans Center would – from that point forward – be known as “The Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center.”
To accommodate a growing program and increase in staff, the Barron Veterans Center moved again in May 2015 to its current location adjacent to the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. At nearly 4,000 square feet, this new facility nearly doubled the size of the former space and truly serves as a “one-stop-shop” for military-connected students. The additional space is now able to house a full staff cadre, which includes the Troops to Engineers and ESTEP Coordinators, the College of Extended Studies (CES) Military Veterans Services Representative, and the Military Liaison Officer, among other professionals.
With program growth, the Barron Veterans Center continues to provide a place for our veterans and military-affiliated students to seek assistance and resources, as well as to congregate and network with students from similar backgrounds. The Bunker and Hostler Conference Room – both nearly three times larger than before – continue to provide study and relaxation areas for our students to utilize. Now in its third location, our flagpole stands next to our building and the Colors fly proudly.
Our incredible team consists of:
- Director, Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center
- Veterans Coordinator
- Military Liaison Officer
- Two Veterans Assistants
- Veterans Employment Specialist
- Academic Advisor for the Wounded Warrior Battalion
- VA VetSuccess on Campus Counselor
- CES Military Veterans Service Representative
- Troops to Engineers Coordinator
- ESTEP Coordinator
- 20+ VA Work-Study students
Is there one part of your program you are most proud of or would like to highlight?
We are most proud of the overall growth of the program into a full three-stage “life cycle,” where we provide; 1) assistance with admissions to SDSU, 2) resources promoting academic success for current students, and 3) transition planning for (re)entry into the workforce following college completion.
To what do you attribute your success?
Our success and that of our military-affiliated students can only be attributed to the campus and community support given to our program. From the SDSU President’s office down to the grassroots activism of the student body, all facets of the campus truly acknowledge the unique background, experiences, and skillsets of the military-connected student and foster unprecedented support to their success. Community organizations, public and private industries, and military and governmental agencies also contribute selflessly to ensure the veteran and military students are fully prepared for their next chapters in life.
What are some recommendations you have for colleges and universities that are just starting their veterans’ programs?
The most important recommendations we offer include:
- Maintain a steady path forward through development of manageable programs,
- Stay engaged with all levels of campus personnel (i.e., high level leadership, faculty, staff, and administrators),
- Get to know and work collaboratively with your military-connected students,
- Reach out to other institutions locally, regionally, and nationally to identify “best practice” methods for program development, and
- Do not be afraid to try something! If it fails, at least you know what NOT to do next time!
How have you used the Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions to enhance the various programs and services you offer student veterans and other military-connected students?
We have used the Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions to obtain ideas from other higher education institutions and support organizations to determine how to improve current programs and develop new initiatives. Please take advantage of this FREE online resource designed to serve you as you serve our nation’s military-connected students. Good luck!
Do you have a success story to share with other colleges and universities across the nation? Contact us!