May 11, 2015
By Ruth Steinhardt
This year, 364 graduates of the George Washington University will be military members, veterans or military dependents. Emanuel Johnson, outgoing president of GW Vets, is one of them. He served in the U.S. Navy for seven years and upon his arrival at GW, he wanted to become “a normal student—toga parties and so forth,” he said, laughing.
But after attending a welcome luau for student veterans, military dependents and members of the Armed Forces Reserves, he left with a job in GW’s Office of Military and Veteran Student Services—and an instant support system.
“The camaraderie and love and support that I felt made me stick around the veterans’ community,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’m graduating this semester, and I couldn’t have done it without all the veterans here and the veterans’ support staff.”
That support staff is part of what is now called GW VALOR. Established in 2013, VALOR is the catchall initiative coordinating the several university offices that help military members, veterans and their families find success at GW. The VALOR team helps veteran and military students network, navigate their benefits and find jobs or scholarships.
“As I’ve traveled around over the two years I’ve been at GW, I’ve visited many other colleges that are trying to build their capacity to serve the [veterans] population, and they really look to us,” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) Mel Williams, GW’s associate provost for military and veterans affairs, at last Thursday’s VALOR Excellence Awards ceremony.
GW has been named among Military Times’ “Best for Vets” universities since 2010 and among G.I. Jobs’ “Military-Friendly” institutions since 2009.
Over the past year, GW VALOR partnered with the U.S. Naval Academy to provide graduate-level courses for junior officers selected to serve three-year terms at USNA. Positions were added and filled for VALOR director for military and veterans affairs at the Hampton Roads campus and VALOR program manager for online education.
Special programs were added for military members and veterans in the School of Nursing and the Graduate School of Management. In addition, the VALOR Military Awareness Program was begun. Its goal is to provide GW faculty, staff and students with opportunities to learn about the U.S. military. To date, the program has taken 14 “road trips” that included discussions or visits to a nuclear powered submarine in Hampton Roads, Walter Reed Bethesda Medical Facility and an Air Force Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland among others.
“It’s a privilege for me to serve on the team that’s doing these things,” Adm. Williams said.
Since VALOR was established in 2013, the military and veteran student population at GW has grown by about 50 percent, from 1,000 such students in fiscal year 2013 to 1,500 in September 2014. The program has grown in response, receiving major grants like the Mark R. Shenkman Career Services Fund, the Miller Endowment and a $1 million grant to the School of Nursing for the “Transition to Nursing” program.
“[VALOR students] are becoming a major part of the student population,” said Sam Inman, chief of staff to Adm. Williams in the Office of Military and Veterans’ Affairs. “As that population grows, we hear from faculty that there’s more diversity in their classrooms, we hear from student organizations that veterans are leading the way—that’s the biggest thing for us.”