Valuing Veterans

December 19, 2010

Through the Yellow Ribbon Program and more, GW is reinforcing its commitment to student veterans.

It is only fitting that George Washington University, named after one of the nation’s most notable veterans, enrolled Don A. Balfour, the first recipient of the 1944 GI Bill.

And Mr. Balfour is far from the university’s only notable veteran alumnus. Others include Gen. Colin Powell, M.B.A. ’71, Adm. Thad Allen, M.P.A. ’86, and Tammy Duckworth, M.A. ’92, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

For this academic year, GW budgeted up to $2.9 million for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which offers veterans enhanced access to higher education. More than 500 student veterans enrolled at GW in 2010, including more than 260 who took advantage of the Yellow Ribbon Program, under which Veterans Affairs matches university contributions.

In 2009, GI Jobs magazine named George Washington University one of the most military-friendly schools in the country, and Military Times ranked GW 21st out of more than 4,000 colleges and universities in its Best for Vets college rankings for 2010.

These rankings recognize a commitment to veterans that has become increasingly a focus for the university in recent years, and the fall 2010 semester was no exception, particularly after GW hired Mary Waring, M.A. ’10, as the university’s first full-time veterans services coordinator over the summer. Earlier in 2010, GW also partnered with Veterans Campaign, a nonprofit organization that helps train veterans hoping to campaign for elected office.

The university’s second annual Freshman Day of Service, held on Sept. 11, 2010, was dedicated to helping veterans this year, and First Lady Michelle Obama joined more than 1,900 GW students who volunteered throughout the day.

“You’ve risked all for the common good,” GW President Steven Knapp told representatives from nearly 80 Student Veterans of America chapters across the country at the third annual SVA national conference in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 4.

American colleges and universities have a responsibility to help student veterans become integrated into campus life, Dr. Knapp said, particularly because academia is “a very different world from what [they’ve] experienced during [their] time in service.

“Your commitment to service, which you’ve also demonstrated in such an extraordinary way, is an inspiration to students,” he added, “and I think strengthens their own commitment to service.”

Brian Hawthorne, a Presidential Administrative Fellow, graduate student at GW and member of the SVA board of directors, introduced Dr. Knapp. Mr. Hawthorne, who received a bachelor’s degree from GW and founded its SVA chapter in 2008, said the university is “engaged and willing to listen” to student veterans’ needs and concerns.

On Nov. 11, student veterans led a Veterans Day ceremony on GW’s Kogan Plaza to recognize the men and women who have served in the military.

President Knapp addressed those assembled shortly after taping a radio segment on the NPR affiliate, WAMU 88.5, about the university’s commitment to veterans. Ryan Bos, president of GW Vets, also spoke at the ceremony.

“I am proud to be a vet and proud to stand with the likes of Vietnam veterans and World War II veterans. I feel like I’m part of an elite group of this nation’s society that can say I’m a veteran,” said Mr. Bos, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne and the 1st Armored Division. “We’re all bonded by the experiences we went through.”

A junior currently serving in the Maryland Army National Guard, Mr. Bos also led a moment of silence and a wreath-laying ceremony, which was followed by a barbeque and several contests.

About a week and a half later, more than 100 staff and student volunteers gathered in GW’s Marvin Center for a Thanksgiving luncheon for local veterans.

The volunteers served meals to veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Vinson Hall Retirement Community and Fort Belvoir. The Thanksgiving menu included green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, turkey, pumpkin cheesecake and apple cider.

“This is one of the many ways GW supports and honors veterans,” said Shannon Donahue, freshmen service and alternative breaks coordinator in GW’s Office of Community Service. “We wanted to provide a Thanksgiving meal to those who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving this year or might not have anyone else to spend it with.”

“It means a lot to have a Thanksgiving meal,” said John Budzik, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was stationed at Honolulu Harbor when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

“A lot of these guys aren’t going to be with their families for Thanksgiving, so I know they appreciate this a lot,” said Mr. Bos.