GW Veterans and Others Complete Day of Service

Event honored President Knapp for his support of veterans during his tenure leading the university.

Dr. Knapp accepts a gift of thanks from Yannick Baptiste of GW Veterans. (William Atkins/GW Today)

March 27, 2017

By B. L. Wilson

More than 150 George Washington University students and others gathered at Kogan Plaza Saturday morning before setting out to perform community service around the D.C. area—all aimed at supporting U.S. military veterans.

It was the sixth annual Veteran Day of Service organized by the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service in partnership with the Office for Veteran Students and Military Affairs and GW Vets.

“The idea is to connect military and community service,” said Amy Cohen, the executive director of the Nashman Center. “Research shows that one of the most effective ways for reintegrating veterans into civilian society is to engage them in community service.

“A lot of folks in the military make great leaders for community service because they know how to organize a project and make things happen.”

GW veteran students were joined by members of the College Democrats and Republicans, fraternity and sorority groups, Presidential Administrative Fellows and others in addition to volunteers from off-campus organizations such as AmeriCorps and a VFW Post.

After a presentation of the colors and a rousing rendition of the national anthem by student veteran Anthony Evans, civic engagement coordinator Matt Basista told the gathering, “On days like today we bind ourselves together through acts that revive our communities and build crosscutting relationships and service.”

GW has been named among Military Times’ “Best for Vets” universities since 2010 and among G.I. Jobs’ “Military-Friendly” institutions since 2009.

Mr. Basista thanked George Washington President Steven Knapp for his generous support of the military and called upon the president of GW Veterans Yannick Baptiste to present a special gift to Dr. Knapp.

It was a “cajon,” a Peruvian box-shaped drum that was emblazoned with the logos of the university’s three military student organizations.

Dr. Knapp told the gathering that it was in Kogan Plaza in 2009 that GW became the first university in the region to join the Yellow Ribbon Program, a benefit under the post 9/11 GI Bill that covers the tuition of veteran graduate students. He noted that retired Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a strong supporter of the military, was present along with then-Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth, M.A. ’92, now a U.S. senator from Illinois.

“Senator Duckworth has been a very important member of our community for a long time. She is actually a university alumna,” Dr. Knapp said. Ms. Duckworth was the first recipient of the university’s Colin Powell Public Service Award and will be the university’s 2017 Commencement speaker.

He said the presence of student veterans who come to the university with different life experiences serves as an example to younger students.

“They have already exhibited through their service to the nation, and in the way they continue the mission here, they become role models to other students. I think they’ve added a unique dimension to our university of which we are very proud. We’re glad to have them.”

And with that, Dr. Knapp gave the crowd a demonstration of his skills on the cajon.

The volunteers then split into groups to head to the Armed Services Retirement Home,, the National Mall and other sites to interact with veterans, help with recycling, pitch in on beautification projects and put together care packages for soldiers overseas.

As GW senior Kazuma Engelkermer, a Navy ROTC, prepared to climb above a yellow school bus, he explained, “We stress service. You’re going into military service. You’re serving others while serving the community too. What better way to serve the community than serve with and for veterans at the same time?”

One Veteran Charts a Healing Course

For many veterans, emotional and physical healing become a lifelong pursuit. One such veteran, Aaron Banas, CCAS ’19, and former Navy corpsman, has found that his path to wholeness is predicated on helping other veterans. A 2016 recipient of a VALOR Learning Supplement, Aaron has chosen to pursue a doctorate in psychology to better aid men and women who are dealing with the trauma of their own military experiences.

“Every time I see a veteran struggling to adjust to civilian life, I am reminded of myself about eight years ago, right after completing my enlistment as a Navy corpsman,” says Aaron. “I went through some rough times, but I found my way by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I came out with a clear head and an open mind, knowing that I wanted to help other veterans, and that life doesn’t have to be a constant battle.”

Aaron’s penchant for helping others began as a corpsman in hospitals, but since leaving the military, he has facilitated outdoor retreats for combat veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project. He also participates in The Mission Continues, an organization that helps returning veterans find purpose through community impact, and in partnership with Arlington County, Virginia, he created a coalition to address veteran-related issues in the community.

“As a civilian, I wanted to [help] on an even greater level because I found the light at the end of my own tunnel and wanted to help others do the same,” says Aaron. His passion for supporting veterans follows him wherever he goes; within weeks of matriculating at GW, he signed on with the Operation Educate the Educator initiative and volunteered to be the GW representative for Division 19: The Society for Military Psychology.

“I chose GW to pursue my degree for a number of reasons,” he says. “I was first drawn by the program and was later sold when I attended an open house and met the faculty—they were very warm and inviting. It just felt right. I was also impressed by the support for veterans GW offers. Many schools offer programs, but GW VALOR is the best program I am aware of.”

Aaron also expresses gratitude for receiving the VALOR Learning Supplement. “I used up the GI Bill for my undergraduate degree, so this award was extremely helpful,” he says. “As a recipient, I wish to continue to give back to the GW community through service, initiatives, and engaging whenever I can.”

He is particularly enthusiastic about the newly minted Military Resource Center, which began offering a partial menu of services this fall. “I have not yet done any work with the Military Resource Center, but I’m very excited about it,” he says. “I peer-facilitate wellness groups for veterans at the DC VA Medical Center, and I think [the Military Resource Center] would be a great space to hold similar groups.”

Clearly, Aaron’s passion is fueled by helping others, but he cites the changes he sees in the people he is working with as the true honor. For example, at one of his retreats, a recalcitrant veteran arrived wearing a baseball cap, dark sunglasses, and a full beard. He sat with his arms crossed, leaning back in his chair, not speaking to anyone. By the end of the retreat, the dark glasses were gone and the man had shaved off his beard.

“He was laughing with the others—you wouldn’t have known it was the same person,” says Aaron. “At the end of the retreats there is rarely a dry eye, as the retreats prove to be a profoundly cathartic experience. I design them as spaces for growth, communication, and healing, and I get to witness the impact on the veterans who attend. I am extremely honored to have the opportunity to lead them.” —Mary Follin

GW Marks Veterans Day

Ceremony commemorates, in part, anniversary of women’s admission to military service academies.

Unlike Memorial Day, which celebrates fallen service members, Veterans Day is set aside to thank and commemorate all who have served. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Unlike Memorial Day, which celebrates fallen service members, Veterans Day is set aside to thank and commemorate all who have served. (William Atkins/GW Today)

November 14, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt - GW Today

The George Washington University community took time out Friday morning to celebrate Veterans Day with its traditional wreath-laying ceremony.

“We are grateful for all the contributions that student veterans make to our university,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp in his welcome. “One of those contributions is their ‘continuing the mission’ by leading and inspiring the service activities of their fellow students.”

Students, faculty and staff, including several veterans, gathered in Veterans Park on Kogan Plaza to celebrate, opening with the traditional presentation of the colors.

Keynote speakers Adam Popp and Luann Barndt, veterans themselves, explored the legacy of the American armed forces and celebrated the advantages veterans bring to GW.

Mr. Popp, who is getting his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, is the recipient of a 2016 Pat Tillman Award. Mr. Popp pointed to Mr. Tillman, who gave up a lucrative football career to join the U.S. Army Rangers, as an exemplar of military values of self-sacrifice and dedication to country.

“Let us continue to remember and honor [veterans] each day by thriving in the freedom they protected,” he said.

Ms. Barndt, a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a doctoral student in GSEHD’s Executive Leadership Program in Human and Organizational Learning, commemorated the 40th anniversary of women’s admission into military academies.

She shared the story of Douglas Munro, the Coast Guard’s first and only recipient of the Medal of Honor, who died on Guadalcanal in 1942. Mr. Munro’s mother, Edith, accepted a commission in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve on the same day she received her son’s medal.

“As a Gold Star mother, she transformed her loss into significant service,” said Ms. Barndt, who has two children in the military.

This year, all jobs in combat were opened to women for the first time.

“My son observed that he would be among those to integrate women into the infantry—and who better to understand the challenges that women in the military face than the son of a military mother?” Ms. Barndt said.

Ms. Barndt, Mr. Popp, GW Veterans President Yannick Baptiste and Student Association Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno presented the traditional wreath of flowers at the end of the ceremony.

GW continued its commitment to military and veteran students by expanding its Yellow Ribbon Program benefits in June. The university has been named a “Best for Vets” university by Military Times since 2010 and has been listed among G.I. Jobs’ “Military-Friendly” institutions since 2009.

New writing award honors life of Marine, D.C. native

From left to right: Yannick Baptiste (President-GW Veterans), Bell Clement (Sgt. Chase's mother), Emily Niekrasz (inaugural recipient), Ely Ross (Director of DC Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs), Tyler McManus (Undergraduate Outreach Coordinator - GW Veterans)

From left to right: Yannick Baptiste (President-GW Veterans), Bell Clement (Sgt. Chase's mother), Emily Niekrasz (inaugural recipient), Ely Ross (Director of DC Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs), Tyler McManus (Undergraduate Outreach Coordinator - GW Veterans)

by Taylor Galgano | Hatchet Reporter

Just months before Sgt. Julian Clement Chase was set to begin his first year at GW in 2012, the U.S. Marine was killed in action in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

To honor his memory, his family created a scholarship to help other students live out their son’s passions for writing and connecting with the D.C. community. The gift, a $1,000 prize that will be awarded each year by the University Writing Program, is given to students whose writing centers on the District, where Chase grew up.

Chase’s mother, Bell Clement, a professorial lecturer of history at GW, said although her son never attended the University, she hopes the gift will recognize the creative work that reflects what Chase could have created as a student.

“He was going to be making big contributions here, and we had to make that happen, nonetheless,” Clement said.

The prize will be awarded yearly to a student or students who produce pieces of writing or research “demonstrating in-depth engagement with Washington, D.C.,” according to the University Writing Program’s website.

On Thursday, Chase’s family and about 20 others gathered at the GW Museum and Textile Museum for the first award ceremony.

Chase attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Tenleytown, where he explored his creative and academic sides through writing and photography, his mother said. He joined an after-school writing program that encouraged students to journal together and brought in guest authors to speak to the group.

Even while serving overseas, Chase maintained this devotion to writing, she said.

“One of the things that I’m gladdest to know is that while he was deployed, he had begun to keep journals,” Clement said. “I had always encouraged this. Being deployed, you’re seeing some remarkable things, and you’re going to want to have a record of it.”

Clement said her son wanted to attend GW because he viewed it as a challenging institution that “valued excellence.”

“I know he wanted to be challenged,” Clement said. “It was important to him to be in a place that was demanding. He really wanted to be able to come here.”

The Clement family wanted to honor Chase's love for D.C. through the award, his mother said.

“He enjoyed bragging he was from D.C., and he was interested in the city,” Clement said. “One of the things I enjoyed was watching Julian explore Washington. If you’re a 16-year-old guy, you’re seeing the city in a much different way than your mom sees it. It was wonderful to see the city through his eyes.”

Clement said she hopes the award will encourage students to explore the city and develop research around what they find. If her son were a student, she thinks that he would have applied for similar awards, she added.

This year’s prize winners, Kaeleigh Christie and Emily Niekrasz, will split the $1,000 award.

Christie, who studied sociology before graduating in the spring, said her research about truancy in D.C. public schools that earned her the prize ended up shaping her career path.

“I am currently in law school and am more determined than ever to pursue a career where I will be in a better position to look out for others and make a difference in the community to ensure people are not being left behind,” Christie said.

Niekrasz, who is in her first year of the museum studies graduate program, won the award with her senior thesis that focused on the ties between D.C. and the Civil Rights Movement.

She said she hopes the award will encourage others to explore D.C.’s history and will commemorate Chase’s life.

“I definitely think this is a great way for him to be remembered,” Niekrasz said. “It was an awful, awful tragedy, and I really think that it’s going to be a nice way for his life to live on.”

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said Chase would likely have graduated with a bachelor’s degree last year and could have been an influential part of veterans’ close-knit community.

Baptiste said he connects with Chase’s story because they had similar military backgrounds, and both were making arrangements to attend GW while they were still overseas, he said.

“I have had the opportunity to get involved with GW and all it has to offer, and Julian’s time was cut short,” Baptiste said. “I could have very well had the same fate, and remembering those I worked with and other service members like Julian, even during the most trying of days, provides perspective and the motivation to never undervalue what you have.”

Veterans resource center to open on F Street

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor

by Taylor Galgano | Hatchet Reporter

Issue: October 2, 2016

GW Veterans officially have an on-campus community space that houses a career counselor and study space for student veterans. The group will share the F Street townhouse with VALOR.

GW Veterans officially have a dedicated space to study, access resources and socialize together on campus.

A year and a half after coming up with the idea for a resource center, the group will officially move into an F Street townhouse this month. This is the first time that student veterans have an on-campus community space and the center falls in line with officials’ promises to support veterans after the departure of their top administrator.

Yannick Baptiste, president of GW Veterans, said the group will start moving into the space before Alumni Weekend begins Oct. 27 and will be completely settled in the townhouse by Veterans Day.

The center will combine services that were already available to veteran students through VALOR, like a career counselor and assistance processing benefits, and the townhouse features a lounge and study space so students can have a “home away from home," Baptiste said.

“There are a lot of students who come for the studies, and that’s it,” Baptiste said. “This will be a place for students to go in between classes because, in general, they don’t have a place to call home.”

The space for the new resource center is located next door to the Naval ROTC offices, meaning the move will place all of the University’s military services physically closer to each other than ever before. Members of the GW military community have said this will help veterans and current students form stronger bonds.

The space is currently occupied by an office from the University Teaching and Learning Center and the STEM Academy. University officials said these two offices are moving to spaces in Gelman Library to make room for the resource center.

The center will share the space with the townhouse’s other current tenant, VALOR student services. VALOR leaders and GW Veterans have already begun writing up an agreement to ensure the two organizations remain separate while sharing a building, because GW Veterans still falls under the jurisdiction of the Center for Student Engagement as a student organization and does not report to VALOR, Baptiste said.

“Even though we’re in their building, they can’t hold that over our heads,” Baptiste said. “They don’t hold our money. They’re not in charge of us.”

After losing their top official, veteran and military students initially shared concerns that they would not be supported by administrators. Provost Forrest Maltzman confirmed in the spring that veterans affairs would be moved into the Division of Student Affairs and said he and others would continue to prioritize the student veteran community.

There are more than 1,700 military and veteran students currently enrolled at GW, according to the GW Veterans website.

GW Veterans will soon begin fundraising by seeking out corporate and private donors and applying for grants to pay for some renovations to the new center, like new carpeting, paint and decor in time for next academic year, Baptiste said. His first renovation priority is to add an extra doorway into the lounge space. The space will give student veterans a place to relax and bond with one another, which is important for building community, Baptiste added.

“The leading indicator of student veteran success on campus is community,” Baptiste said.

Andrew Sonn, assistant dean of students, said the resource center will include a resource library for military and veteran students, office space for military and veteran student organization leaders, group and individual study spaces, a conference room and the lounge.

"GW's military and veteran student resource center is a community-building, service and resource space intended to support the engagement and academic achievement of GW's more than 1,800 military and veteran students," Sonn said. “This space will be a great location to affirm GW's commitment to military and veteran students."

Sonn declined to comment on how much financial support the University will provide to the veteran center.

Over the past year, GW Veterans has been collecting support for the center from student organizations, various schools and administrators. The Alumni Association passed a resolution in support of the center in August, according to the GW Veterans website.

Jeff Fair, a 1997 alumnus of the Elliott School of International Affairs, a veteran and a member of the Alumni Association executive committee who spearheaded the association’s resolution, said the space still requires renovations to be up to par with "amazing" centers at other universities. The American Council on Education recommends that institutions create veteran resource centers, and more than 50 universities in the U.S. already have similar spaces.

Now that GW Veterans have a place to call home, Fair said he hopes they can remain in place and not have to move buildings again.

“We want to build ours to be one of the very best,” Fair said. “I'd like to see the University support GW Veterans with their renovation plans and then keep the Vets in this location for some time. I understand facilities management can be tricky, but it would be very disruptive to building a community if we moved the location."

Career, academic counselor for student veterans joins campus


by Rachel Ventresca | Hatchet Reporter

Issue: September 7, 2016 | News

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor  VetSuccess tabled at a Welcome Week event for veterans last month. Laura Ferraro, the new VetSuccess campus counselor, joined the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services over the summer.

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

VetSuccess tabled at a Welcome Week event for veterans last month. Laura Ferraro, the new VetSuccess campus counselor, joined the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services over the summer.

A new counselor on campus will help student veterans as they navigate their ways through college.

Laura Ferraro, the new VetSuccess on Campus counselor, joined the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services over the summer. As a representative for a Department of Veterans Affairs program, she will help student veterans and qualified dependents reach their academic goals and counsel them throughout their time at GW.

Victoria Pridemore, the associate director of military and veteran student services, said having a designated counselor on campus will alleviate student veterans' stress when making medical appointments or applying for benefits.

“The academic and career outreach gives GW student veterans a leg up in transitioning to the civilian community,” Pridemore said in an email.

Ferraro hopes to focus on helping student veterans succeed academically by pairing them with tutors and presenting them with academic resources, Pridemore said. In her position, Ferraro will aid students in job searches by providing career counseling and aptitude tests.

“Student veterans are career-focused. They come to campus with a career in mind, but maybe not a path or plan," Pridemore said. "They are a unique student population who require a special support network in order to thrive."

Ferraro comes to GW from four years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She also spent time working with wounded and ill soldiers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to her profile on the military office website.

GW joined the VetSuccess program in summer 2013. Roger Deason previously held the role until he retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs last spring.

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said there was a delay in replacing Deason at GW because the VA prioritizes replacing counselors at their headquarters before filling empty slots at universities.

Having Ferraro on campus will benefit more than 1,700 student veterans at the University because she reports directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing her to provide some services beyond GW's scope, Baptiste said.

“She is able to assist students in applying for benefits,” Baptiste said in an email, “GW VALOR Student Services processes benefits but cannot tell a student what benefits they are eligible for or recommend using one type of benefit over another.”

Baptiste said Ferraro can also provide students with referrals for specialized health care, including mental health care, from external providers and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Lisa Fells, a VetSuccess counselor at the University of Alabama, said having a vocational and career outreach counselor is an “awesome experience” for student veterans.

Fells said that students under financial and academic strains can benefit from having a counselor on their campuses.

“In a major city, all expenses the veteran can expect to incur will be higher,” Fells said. “The pressure to try to study and concentrate on school when they have to worry about possible medical stability, financial obligations and trying to keep up with school can become overwhelming without support or knowing where to turn when it gets tough.”

Nashman Center vacancies delay veterans service day

by Avery Anapol | Assistant News Editor

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor  Organizations gather at the 2016 Valor tailgate and resource fair last month. Veterans' day of service is moved to next semester after staff turnover.

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Organizations gather at the 2016 Valor tailgate and resource fair last month. Veterans' day of service is moved to next semester after staff turnover.

A day of service designed for student veterans initially planned for the fall will be held off until the spring, after two people charged with running the event left the University.

The event, which connects GW student veterans with service projects for the day, was supposed to happen next month. The majority of the event’s coordination falls in the hands of a temporary employee, and student veteran leaders said that turnover in this position, among other staff changes, caused a delay in planning.

The service day is a trademark event of the Veteran Service Initiative, a student veteran effort operated through the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. Last year’s day of service, held in October, was only the third since the initiative started in 2011.

Matthew Basista, GW Veterans’ civic engagement coordinator, said staff changes in the Nashman Center over the summer have slowed down the planning and left the event without a director.

“There was an intention to have it in the fall, but throughout the summer we experienced many shifts in staff,” Basista said. “We didn’t have a solid picture as to what we should prepare for.”

Before the summer, there were five staff members in the Nashman Center dedicated to the Veteran Service Initiative, Basista said. Now there are three — Basista, Nashman Center executive director Amy Cohen and the newly hired AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America, German Sanchez.

The leadership of the Veteran Service Initiative is temporary by nature: The Nashman Center employs multiple AmeriCorps VISTA fellows each year, who commit to a year of service at an organization in exchange for a monetary educational award to attend graduate school or pay off student loans. A VISTA fellow takes on the responsibility of running the Veteran Service Initiative, including the day of service.

Basista said natural turnover can present a challenge in “continuity,” because the VISTAs only serve one-year terms.

Cohen said in an email that the AmeriCorps fellow for this academic year will organize service for and with military and veteran students and families.

“We have and will continue to work with other veteran service offices and organizations across campus to create opportunities for veteran and military family service,” Cohen said.

Last year’s VISTA, Blake Lovelace, along with Charles Basden and Maurice Smith, two Nashman Center employees, made up a team that ran the third-ever day of service last fall, Basista said. Basden and Smith both left the University over the summer.

Basista said that Basden and Smith’s two now-vacant positions were “morphed” over the summer. The University is currently searching for two senior program associates to focus on service and social innovation, and academic service-learning, according to GW's jobs website. Basista said that the University has assured him that the new hires will be made by January, allowing the group the time to plan the event for sometime in March.

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said the student group supports the decision to postpone the event because the originally planned date presented scheduling conflicts for many student veterans whose reserve units have obligations during the fall.

Baptiste said holding the event in the spring does present an added visibility challenge because Veterans Day in November often attracts attention to fall events. Still, holding the event in the spring means that the group will not have to compete with other veteran service organizations who put on Veterans Day events.

“This remains a component of the GW Veteran strategic plan to create well-rounded leaders and to give back to the community for the many benefits and services we enjoy,” Baptiste said. “This sense of service is ingrained into many of our members.”

Vaidehi Patel and Sam Rosin contributed reporting.

Mental Health Services nearly doubles staff size

by Lillianna Byington | Contributing News Editor 

Issue: August 28, 2016 | News

The staff of Mental Health Services has almost doubled since the spring.

The counseling center has hired 10 new staff members, including counselors that specialize in working with minority and veteran students. These hires come after a year of leadership and staff turnover within the center.

Gillian Berry, who has served as the interim director of MHS since last September, said in an email that MHS has been recruiting staff since the spring to hire diversity and military services coordinators, a clinical services coordinator and a senior staff psychologist. 

Six staff clinicians joined the center at the beginning of this month, Berry said.

“All of these positions provide direct support and counseling services to students,” Berry said. “We worked with campus partners and students during our hiring process.”

Diversifying the staff
Zoeann Finzi-Smith, who was hired in the spring, is a staff clinician and the diversity services coordinator. She previously served as a postdoctoral clinical fellow at MHS, according to an archived version the center's website. 

The diversity services coordinator position was announced last year in an effort to create a more inclusive environment and hire specialized counselors.

Finzi-Smith works with the Multicultural Student Services Center and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement to discuss programming and assess student needs, Berry said. 

Berry said that this role requires developing targeted programs, including a weekly event at the MSSC during which any students can drop by. Finzi-Smith also handles walk-in hours and group counseling sessions for "underserved populations."

Louise Douce, who served as the director of the Ohio State University’s counseling center for 23 years, said having a diversity counselor can help students feel more comfortable using the center, but that offering those resources won’t necessarily work for every student. It should be a goal for every therapist at a center to be “multicultural confident” and for a center to have an overall diverse staff, she said. 

“If you don’t have a diverse range of people — and, actually, a range of languages — in your center then you are not going to be seen as a place to go for people who are struggling,” Douce said. “Often people who are from traditionally marginalized groups are marginalized on campus and that really affects their ability to succeed.” 

Offering veterans services
Jennifer Mostafa joined the MHS staff as a military services coordinator and staff clinician in the spring. The position had been vacant for about 11 months before Mostafa was hired.

Sarah Skelton, who served as the former veteran student services coordinator, was one of five MHS clinicians to file a formal complaint with the D.C. Department of Health against the former director of GW’s counseling center for practicing without a D.C. license. She left the center in September, according to archived versions of the center's website.

Berry declined to comment on how the center served military students while the military services coordinator position was vacant. 

Yannick Baptiste, the president of the GW Veterans, said in an email that MHS involved GW’s military office in the interview process and evaluation of the candidates for the position. 

Mostafa is not only a designated resource, but a trained clinician with experience counseling military members and is a current service member, Baptiste said. She has come to recent internal GW Veterans Accelerate Learning Opportunities and Rewards Program meetings, he said.

He added that Mostafa is more accessible than traditional counseling services, which could potentially increase GW's retention of military-affiliated students.

“If their work can alleviate the stress in our students, prevent students from dropping out or prevent the loss of a life, I do not believe ‘benefit’ would be a strong enough word,” Baptiste said. “Higher education can be extremely stressful and veterans are not immune to that.”

Impact on the center
The center is still missing its top leader. Silvio Weisner, the former director of MHS, stepped down suddenly last September after officials found he was not licensed to practice psychology in D.C. After 11 months, the position still has not been filled. 

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email that GW's student affairs division, along with the provost’s office, launched a search for the executive director of the Colonial Health Center, who will oversee MHS. The division was one of several reorganized in a series of budget cuts announced this summer. 

“A recent reorganization of the Division of Student Affairs presented an opportunity to re-imagine this role,” Csellar said. 

She said that Keeling and Associates, a higher education consulting firm, is leading the search.

Officials declined to comment on when they hope to name a director, what stage the search is in, how many candidates have been interviewed and what traits they are looking for in candidates for the position. 

Nance Roy, a clinical director at The Jed Foundation and an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, said there are pros and cons to making hires before finding a permanent director. Although a director could view the amount of hires as an unsteady staff, it could be appealing for a new director to develop the new staff, she said.

“It is ideal if the director has a voice in the new hires, but they don’t want a delay in hiring more staff especially with the start of school upon us,” Roy said. “The trade-off would be that you don’t have the robust staff that you now have."

Veterans office adds new position to process benefits

April 24, 2016
by Lauren Gomez | Staff Writer

A new program coordinator joined the University’s military and veteran student services team this month.

Kellis Robbins, a 2015 alumna who has worked for more than two years in Veterans Accelerate Learning Opportunities and Rewards student services, joined the office’s staff full-time to help process and handle GI Bill benefits for student veterans.

Veteran students receive yearly funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of the GI Bill, which can cover their rent, tuition and other expenses.

Victoria Pridemore, associate director of military and veteran student services, said in an email that Robbins started her new position April 1. Robbins will begin studying for a master's in communication management at GW this fall.

“Kellis will have a direct student services role, helping facilitate benefits processing for the more than 1,700 VALOR students at GW,” Pridemore said. “We are excited that she has joined our team.”

Robbins declined to comment for this story.

Robbins is one of three full-time staff members now working in the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, along with several student veteran employees employed through the Department of Veterans Affairs work-study program.

The office has not added a new position in at least two years, and Robbins’ hire comes at a time of turnover and change in the University’s military and veteran affairs department. At the beginning of this month, Mel Williams, the associate provost for veteran and military affairs at GW, left the University to take a position at the University of California, Davis. Officials said the VALOR office will now be moved under the Division of Student Affairs.

Yannick Baptiste, president of GW Veterans, said hiring Robbins will primarily help the office by aiding benefit-processing for veterans.

In 2014, student veterans from the former Corcoran College of Art + Design saw their benefits delayed in the merger when the Corcoran's financial aid lost benefits forms for some of its veteran students.

He added that Robbins will not have a tough transition because she is an alumna and has worked in the office.

“The hiring of Kellis Robbins will not change the office too much,” Baptiste said. “She was already working there for Veterans Affairs work-study, and now will simply have more responsibilities.”

Mike Connolly, director of military and veterans services at the University of Nebraska Omaha, said adding personnel to help with benefits processing is a smart move by the University because it is a task that often receives too little attention in military and veteran services offices at other universities.

“The benefits side is a very important piece of veterans service that has to be done,” Connolly said. “It’s a certain level of staffing that universities need to pay for.”

Laser tag brings civilian and veteran students together

by The GW Hatchet

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Joseph Politano.

Friendships were born on the battlefield Saturday as fifty students – both veterans and civilians – joined together for a laser tag outing.

GW Veterans hosted the first “Operation Meet a Veteran” event at Sudden Combat in northern Virginia.

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said they held the event to foster relationships between civilian students and veterans, who often live off-campus and do not get the chance to mingle with students outside of class projects.

“A lot of the networking that traditional students do happens in the dorm, or greek life, or other tertiary settings,” Baptiste said. “The goal here was to make sure that our students aren’t isolated and interact with the community.”

Students broke up into ten teams of five players, with an even mix of veteran and civilian students in each group. The day started out with a simple game with toy-like air-pumped shotguns. Participants used the laser-tag equivalent of an M4A1, a military-grade combat weapon, fit with realistic recoil, magazines a and real-time electronic kill trackers for a more advanced game.

Baptiste said that the event has been in the works for three years, originally intending to take students to a shooting range.

“We found that the liability and costs were high,” Baptiste said. “When we started venturing into laser tag, we found that it hit all the bullet points we were looking for: something competitive, something fun, and something that had team building.”

On the ride back to campus, GW Veterans offered everyone a party favor: MREs, the Army’s 2,500 calorie “Meal, Ready to Eat” complete with all the nutrients needed after a full day’s work.

Baptiste said that the event was a success in bringing together these two communities.

“Now, If we’re walking through Kogan Plaza, we’ll make contact, shake hands and talk to each other,” he said. “We really want to make sure we bridge the gap so that we’re not a unique, isolated populous here at GW.”

Photo Credit: Zoe Grimaldi

Photo Credit: Zoe Grimaldi

Photo Credit: Zoe Grimaldi

Photo Credit: Zoe Grimaldi

Veterans office to move under student affairs

Media Credit: Anne McBride | Hatchet Photographer  Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman said the Division of Student Affairs will absorb the veterans and military affairs office.

Media Credit: Anne McBride | Hatchet Photographer

Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman said the Division of Student Affairs will absorb the veterans and military affairs office.

GW’s chief academic officer plans to shift the veterans and military affairs office under the Division of Student Affairs, he said last week.

After the top military and veterans official left the University earlier this month, student veterans said they were concerned that the spot wouldn’t be filled – a confirmed decision that will leave them without a high-level official to personally advocate for them.

Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman said while student veterans will no longer have an official dedicated solely to them in the provost’s office, veteran resources remain a priority at GW.

He said supporting student veterans is a key part of GW’s strategic plan and that top officials regularly push for measures to help out the student population.

“I think of my job as being somebody who's held responsible for implementing the strategic plan, and that is in the strategic plan, front and center,” he said. “So I don’t get the sense that this will fall off the radar at all.”

He added that moving the office into the student affairs division will better align its work in areas like career and mental health services – offices that specifically cater to student veterans and are already reporting to Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.

Mel Williams, the associate provost for military and veteran affairs, announced that he will leave GW earlier this month. He was the first and only person to fill that role, at a time when GW concentrated its efforts on supporting GW veterans.

There are more than 1,700 military and veteran students currently enrolled at GW, according to the GW Veterans website.

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said in an email that he didn’t know any specifics behind the move, but that officials have promised to keep veterans a priority.

“Overall, this may be a positive change for VALOR, but I am unaware of the reasoning that is driving the change,” he said.

GW has regularly received high rankings for veteran services, winning awards for its VALOR program, which provides financial and other support for student veterans and snagging top rankings in lists of top universities for veterans.

But the University has begun to fall in those rankings – in 2011, GW was No. 16 but now sits at No. 31 on a “Best for Vets” list from Military Times.

George Altman, a senior reporter for Military Times who compiles the annual list, said “time will tell” how the office structure change impacts student veterans.

“If the school’s already done a good enough job making the existing decision makers aware of the importance of veteran issues, you don’t need an advocate to push for things – it’s like pushing against an open door,” he said.

The loss of Williams, a retired vice admiral, could impact GW’s veteran and military rankings. Altman said he asks institutions if they have a top-tier official with direct military ties in his annual survey.

“If that person is a reserve in the service or is a veteran, they tend to have a better understanding of the unique type of interests for veterans,” he said.

Veteran affairs official unlikely to be replaced


by Avery Anapol | Assistant News Editor

Issue: April 3, 2016 | 


Media Credit: File Photo by Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Mel Williams, the associate provost for military and veteran affairs, will leave his role at GW for a position at the University of California, Davis. Officials have not announced a plan to replace Williams.

GW’s highest-ranking veteran affairs official is leaving, and it seems unlikely that he will be replaced.

Student veterans are concerned about the future of their programs after the Universityannounced Wednesday that Mel Williams, the associate provost for military and veteran affairs, will leave his role this month. Student veterans said losing a respected leader like Williams is a major blow, and their programs could suffer without someone advocating for them at the highest level.

During his three years at GW, Williams was the driving force behind establishing GW Veterans Accelerate Learning Opportunities and Rewards, the initiative that coordinates all military and veteran service offices. Over the last several years, officials have prioritizedsupport for student veterans, bringing in veteran counselors and career advisers and creating a veteran-specific orientation.

Williams said in an email that he has enjoyed watching the success of VALOR students, and that he looks forward to the challenges of his new role as chief of staff for finance, operations and administration at the University of California, Davis.

“This has been an absolute privilege for me,” Williams said. “I am confident GW will continue its unwavering support for student military members, veterans and their families.”

Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman declined to say whether there are any plans to fill Williams’ position. GW’s announcement last week also did not reference any plan to search for a replacement.

Maltzman said that after Williams’ departure, students will be able to access all VALOR services through existing staff, who are working along with the provost’s office – a statement that repeated the exact wording from the original release.

“We do not have any other updates at this time,” Maltzman said in an email.

Since VALOR began in 2013, military and veteran student enrollment has increased by 200 students, bringing the current total to more than 1,700 students, according to the GW Veterans website. GW ranks No. 31 on the 2016 “Best for Vets” list from the Military Times.

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said Williams’ departure creates an uncertain future for VALOR and veteran students.

“The creation of his position was something the GW community touted as another bullet point in their commitment toward the students and military students at GW,” Baptiste said. “Him leaving and not replacing him definitely begs the question – is that commitment still there?”

Baptiste said GW Veterans and officials in the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs have been preparing a plan to present to administrators that would restructure the office if Williams is not replaced.

While plans are still being discussed, Baptiste said the responsibilities and activities of VALOR could potentially fall under the jurisdiction of the student affairs office, which oversees GW's housing office, the Center for Student Engagement and the Colonial Health Center.

He said an extensive support system for veterans is necessary because more are returning from combat as the U.S. de-escalates efforts overseas, and many will want to pursue an education. Veterans are a lucrative group of students for universities because their G.I. Bill benefits can pay up to the full cost of their education.

“Right now is the time where we should actually be trying to be as advantageous and as welcoming to veterans that are coming out right now because as the DoD winds out, they’re going to want to do something, and many of those are going to want to become students,” Baptiste said. “This is the time for GW to step up their support, not downgrade it.”

Veronica Hoyer, a student veteran and senior who was GW Veterans' vice president last year, said she’s concerned Williams’ departure will cost student veterans leverage with officials.

Hoyer said student veterans have “no idea who’s going to take over,” and the University should include them if a search to replace Williams takes place.

“With how much the student org has worked with the University, including the creation of VALOR, why aren’t we part of the decision process for the transition of VALOR?” Hoyer said.

Emanuel Johnson, a 2015 graduate and the former president of GW Veterans, said having someone of Williams’ prestige was a recruiting factor for many student veterans who came to GW over the last few years.

Johnson said while Victoria Pridemore, the associate director of military and student services, is “extremely capable” of continuing to lead programs, someone of Williams’ caliber is an asset.

“It would be a disservice to the student veteran community, to GW at large, if they didn't bring somebody else in to replace him and try to push forward the initiatives that he started,” Johnson said.

Williams is the second abrupt high-profile departure from the office in recent years. Pridemore was named to her position after the program’s former associate director, Mike Ruybal, suddenly left the University in September 2014.

Mike Connolly, the director of the Office of Military and Veteran Services at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said the strength of their program depends on having representation at the administrative level.

“Without somebody at that level, it certainly makes it much more difficult to advocate for students with the type of whole-university approach it takes to care for veteran students,” he said.

Leader of GW VALOR leaving with no replacement in sight

Associate Provost for Military and Veteran Affairs Mel Williams, right, will leave for a position at the University of California, Davis, at the beginning of April. Hatchet file photo by Sam Hardgrove, Hatchet staff photographer.

Associate Provost for Military and Veteran Affairs Mel Williams, right, will leave for a position at the University of California, Davis, at the beginning of April. Hatchet file photo by Sam Hardgrove, Hatchet staff photographer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 4:23 p.m.

Veteran and military affairs official to depart next month

by Avery Anapol

GW’s highest-ranking military affairs official will leave at the beginning of next month, the University announced Wednesday.

Mel Williams, the associate provost for veteran and military affairs and a retired vice admiral, is leaving GW to become the chief of staff for finance, operations and administration at the University of California, Davis, according the release.

Williams came to GW in 2013 to head veterans affairs, helping to launch GW Veterans Accelerate Learning Opportunities and Rewards, the University’s program that provides academic, career and financial support to military and veteran students.

“As the associate provost for military and veterans affairs at GW, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed supporting and observing the success of VALOR students as I served on a team with wonderful people at a top private university,” Williams said in the release. “This has been an absolute privilege for me.”

There was no mention of a replacement for Williams or a search to fill his position in the release.

Since the launch of GW VALOR, enrollment of military and veteran students has increased by more than 200 students. Substantial donations have also been made to the program, including a $1 million grant to the School of Nursing to start a program aiding veteran students in their transition to nursing studies.

The program has propelled GW to the top of rankings for veteran programs, continuously receiving high marks for veteran support and academic services. Last year, GW won a “Vetty” award from veteran employment organization Mission Complete for its veteran services office.

GW is currently ranked No. 31 for military-friendly colleges by the Military Times. There are more than 1,700 veteran and military students at GW,according to the GW Veterans website.

Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman said in the release that the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs has “flourished” under Williams’ leadership. He added that students will still be able to access VALOR services through existing GW staff.

“In the past three years the office has greatly enhanced its academic and student support services and deepened the university’s understanding of the unique challenges facing military students,” Maltzman said.

Student veterans ask officials for space for studying, advising

Media Credit: Charlie Lee | Hatchet Photographer  The Veterans Resource Center Initiative, an effort launched by GW Veterans, hopes to create a centralized on-campus space for veterans to access resources and spend time together.

Media Credit: Charlie Lee | Hatchet Photographer

The Veterans Resource Center Initiative, an effort launched by GW Veterans, hopes to create a centralized on-campus space for veterans to access resources and spend time together.


by Caroline Haskins | Hatchet Staff Writer

Issue: December 6, 2015

The Veterans Resource Center Initiative, an effort launched by GW Veterans, has been meeting with GW officials to find veterans a place for students to access services like counseling, but also a space to socialize and study — resources the students say they currently lack on campus. They plan to gain University President Steven Knapp's approval and are seeking a $10,000 grant to fund the project.

The center would build on existing resources for veterans on campus like counseling services and scholarship programs. GW created a position in Mental Health Services in 2013 to specifically work with veterans, and officials also created an administrative position in the past to specifically focus on veteran students.

Victoria Pridemore, the associate director of military and veteran student services, said that her department is working with the students and wants to help expand its resources on campus.

"The VALOR Student Services has had discussions with the GW Veterans student group about the proposed Veterans Resource Center," she said. "We are supportive of this endeavor and continue to explore ways in which we can enhance resources and offerings that support GW's student veteran population."

Because veterans get their tuition costs covered through the federal government, they are a highly desirable group of students for schools to attract. More than 50 universities like the University of Maryland, College Park already have military resource centers.

GW Veterans President Yannick Baptiste said that while GW is well-known for its academic programs for veterans, social programming for the group of students isn't as well-covered.

The Office of Military and Veterans Student Services currently manages veteran and military student engagement, but Baptiste said it has a maximum capacity of about eight people in its existing Marvin Center office. This prevents the office from being a more welcoming community for the veteran and military student population, he said.

“There’s a number of schools that have seen what having a centralized community can do, especially for this non-traditional populous, and it’s one of those things that, right now, GW still lacks,” Baptiste said.

Student groups like ROTC, the GW Society of American Military Engineers and the GW Military Law Society could potentially be located in this resource center. The center would have amenities including conference rooms for studying and advising, community computers, a kitchenette and lockers for students who live off campus.

Baptiste said he’s been meeting with staff in the Division of Operations, but they have yet to determine a location for the resource center.

Baptiste, who took over as GW Veterans president in May, said he came up with the idea of the Military Resource Center Initiative when he noticed that the Student Veterans of America had launched a Vet Center Initiative. Schools like Fordham and James Madison universities have received loans of up to $10,000 from Home Depot to build military resource centers.

“One of the things that GW’s still kind of lacking is really engaging the community in an ongoing fashion,” Baptiste said. “What we want to do is create a space especially for that demographic that would welcome them to come year-round. Not just at one a semester, but for them to remain engaged, so that they can really acquire all the different resources that GW has to offer.”

Officials also gave students recovering from mental illness and substance abuse a space on campus to access resources, one of the most recent examples of GW creating a space on campus for a specific group of students.

Over the upcoming weeks, Baptiste said he’s meeting with Alicia Knight, the senior associate vice president of operations, to work out the process of getting a space carved out on campus. They also hope to receive an official letter of support from Knapp by the end of the semester, which is a requirement for the Student Veterans of America grant.

Baptiste said GW Veterans will start fundraising by reaching out to prominent alumni with a history of support for the military, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. The students also plan on reaching out to large companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman, JPMorgan Chase and Boeing, which have a history of support for GW Veterans, and are also prospective sources of donations and corporate mentorships for students in the future.

“The more people that want to get involved with this, the more likely it is to happen. We’re also really hoping to build stronger ties with GW, with the community as a whole, while also still promoting a military awareness as well,” Baptiste said


Ceremony Marks Veterans Day

The GW Navy ROTC presented colors at the Veterans Day wreath laying. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)

November 12, 2015

The George Washington University marked Veterans Day Wednesday with a traditional wreath-laying ceremony in honor of military veterans.

“Today we have the opportunity to take a strategic pause to honor those who have served our great nation as veterans,” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) Mel Williams, associate provost for veterans and military affairs, before a crowd of students, faculty and staff—including many combat veterans from all branches of the armed services—in Veterans Memorial Park on Kogan Plaza.

He thanked GW for its institutional commitment to its veteran and military population. The university has a long history of involvement with veterans’ issues: Don Balfour, B.A. ’45, was the first recipient of the G.I. Bill in the United StatesGW VALOR, the initiative coordinating the several university offices that help military members, veterans and their families find success at GW, now serves more than 1,500 students.

The school also this week received three external honors for its work with the veteran and military communities, being named to the 2016 Military Friendly schools list and as one of Military Times’ Best for Vetsas well as receiving a Vetty Award from Mission Complete.

“GW is setting the pace nationally for those who serve and support the military and veteran community,” Adm. Williams said.

Yannick Baptiste, president of GW Vets, also provided remarks, as did Barbara Porter, chief of staff in the office of George Washington President Steven Knapp.

Mr. Baptiste shared a brief history of Veterans Day and reminded the audience of GW’s military history, noting that its namesake was commander of the Continental Army and that nearby buildings were used as barracks and hospitals during the Civil War.

“Today’s wreath-laying ceremony recognizes all veterans and highlights GW’s commitment to them, past and present,” Mr. Baptiste said.

Ms. Porter, whose grandfather, father and son are all veterans, remembered the contributions of individual veterans to the GW community. She encouraged veterans to find their educational passion and to reach out to the community for help.

“At GW, we may be a veteran-friendly school, and we may be able to remove barriers to make you more successful,” she told veterans in the audience. “But what happens next is up to you…When it’s your turn, I believe you will have given back to your country, you will have given back to your school, and you will lead those coming behind you.”

Mr. Baptiste, Ms. Porter, Adm. Williams and student body president Andie Dowd laid the wreath together in front of the wall displaying the insignia for all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

GW Men's Basketball gains perspective after GW Veteran's annual spring event

For the second year a row, GW Veterans has teamed up with the GW Office of Military and Veteran Student Services and sponsored the Military Mile Memorial March (M4); an annual Memorial Day event held before finals and GW Commencement which is led by student Veterans. The march starts at the Foggy Bottom Campus and showcases the sacrifices of America's heroes through varied memorials on the National Mall, greets Honor Flight recipients, and ends with a lunch that celebrates graduating students and the transition of the GW Veterans Executive Board..

In April 2015, GW Vet's Vice President-elect, Tommy Elms, reached out to GW Athletics and invited the Men's Basketball Team to join the event.  The team was able to participate in the event which  included meeting WWII Veterans. The team would later integrate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial into their summer workouts for which the George Washington University showcased the team's commitment with a video on Veteran's Day 2015.  The team was also showcased by the Washington Post .

Class of 2015 Looks Back on Moments That Mattered

May 13, 2015

With the 2015 Commencement on the National Mall only days away, GW Today asked seniors and graduate students to reflect on their favorite memories during their time at the George Washington University.

We heard of fulfilling collaborations. Intimacy gained from reaching out and reaching back. Athletic success. And those unexpected moments of alumni generosity.

Here is what some members of the Class of 2015 had to say:


Charles Taylor
Major: Mechanical Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science

The 2014 GW Business Plan Competition helped to launch Charles Taylor’s career, when his team won the second place overall prize for the software solutions company, BitGrid, which he now oversees as CEO. But one of his most memorable moments involved a much smaller-scale challenge: the winch car design competition held in his mechanical design course. The contest challenges students to build a vehicle that can move up a 45-degree slope and park. Mr. Taylor’s self-described “ragtag team of clowns” was determined to win in the “least complicated way possible.”

“My motto for engineering is ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’ Everyone had all these fancy designs—with different control systems and gears—and we made the simplest thing we could. During our first time trial, our car didn’t move. So, we back went to the shop, and finally I said, ‘Why don’t we just spray it with a bunch of oil?’ We covered it with WD-40, we went outside, and it shot up and won. Our class all knows each other really well, since we’ve been working together for four years, and there are some good rivalries. We’re all really supportive of one another, but when it comes to competition, it’s no holds barred. So these guys got really cocky really fast, and we smoked them. It felt great.”


Adam Middleton
Major: Journalism and Mass Communication, School of Media and Public Affairs

Adam Middleton received the surprise of a lifetime in 2011, when George Washington President Steven Knapp showed up at Benjamin Banneker High School to award the then-high school senior with a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (SJT) Scholarship. Though Mr. Middleton was hesitant to stay in the District for the next four years, he embraced GW and his hometown through his positions at Men Can Stop Rape and the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. SJT Day is still his favorite day of the year. Mr. Middleton returned to his high school in 2013 and 2014 to surprise the next generation of scholarship recipients.

“It was about giving the students a chance to see what the scholarship looks like in person. Admittedly, I was on the fence about attending GW, given that I had a few other offers on the table. So it’s been exciting for me to say to these new scholars, ‘Look, I know you might have Ivy League options or opportunities to go across the country, but there is a lot to gain at GW. I did it, and I don’t regret it in the least.’ I’ve learned that GW brings together a unique set of students who are ready to change the world.”


Polly Drown
Major: Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science

Polly Drown will begin her career at the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command this summer, but her journey to become an aerospace engineer started as a freshman on the ninth floor of Thurston Hall. She shared the floor with other aspiring engineers, who bonded during introductory classes and late-night study sessions. She still vividly remembers one night in Thurston when the entire floor of students put their wits together to complete particularly difficult online physics homework.

“We just had one or two problems that we were super stuck on. We thought we knew how to do it, but we kept getting the wrong answer. The computer tells you if you’re close and gives you three tries before you get it wrong. So we had at least 20 people squeezed into a Thurston dorm room, and it was five minutes before the homework was due, and we were desperate. Everyone had three guesses, so we just started going around the room like, ‘You guess this. No, that’s not it. OK, now, you guess that.’ And after about five or six rounds, we got the number. There was this huge celebration, and then everybody submitted the right answer. It was pretty cool living with all the engineers as a freshman. It was a social experience, but it was also a collaborative experience.”


Matthew Sicheng Jiang
Majors: Economics and History, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

When an 8,661-mile flight from China to D.C. brought Matthew Sicheng Jiang to GW four years ago, he had little knowledge of American culture beyond what he gleaned from English language courses and popular movies such as “Twilight.” But Mr. Jiang says that becoming a Colonial meant more than overcoming culture shock, experiencing policymaking firsthand as a Capitol Hill intern or rooting for GW basketball at the Charles E. Smith Center. It meant gaining a global family.

“One memory stands out to me from freshman year. I was living in Thurston Hall, and it was the first Chinese New Year that I did not spend with my parents. I couldn’t even celebrate at GW because I had to write a paper. I was feeling a little homesick. That night, I was annoyed when I heard a knock on my door. But when I opened the door, there was a group of people from my floor wishing me a ‘Happy Chinese New Year!’ I still think it was my best New Year’s gift, and it was the only time I’ve cried besides watching ‘Titanic.’ At that moment, I realized it does not matter where you come from. We are all a big family because we are Colonials. At GW, we always say ‘D.C. is our campus, but the world is our classroom.’ The Colonial family is everywhere.”


John Kopriva
Major: Chemistry, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Aspiring orthopedic surgeon John Kopriva has had several top moments at GW. In March, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences senior became just the 10th GW men’s basketball player to be named an Academic All-American. In May, he received the 2015 Red Auerbach Award. His most memorable moment, however, was one he shared with his teammates.

“Going down to North Carolina for the 2014 NCAA tournament was a high moment here at GW for us. Hearing our name called on that Selection Sunday was a great experience. That moment, when you see your name on the screen, the eruption in the room, I just jumped up and grabbed the guy next to me, Ryan McCoy, and started high-fiving all my teammates. I’ll never forget that moment. We had buses going down, caravans of people. It was a really impressive showing of GW spirit—all we had worked for to rebuild the program.”


Alix Cohen
Major: Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science

School of Engineering and Applied Science senior Alix Cohen studied abroad in Korea, mentored aspiring engineers and co-chaired the Senior Class Giving Campaign. She even presented a research project at the White House. Ms. Cohen, who will move to San Francisco this summer for a job with Pacific Gas and Electric, believes GW extends beyond the Foggy Bottom Campus.

“A lot of the personal relationships and connections I’ve made have come from places outside of D.C. In Korea, one of my defining moments was when I had dinner with alumni there. I was in San Francisco last summer for an internship with PG&E, and the first day I was there, one of the vice presidents—who had an undergraduate degree from GW—brought me into his office and sat me down for an hour and talked about how GW shaped his experience. Meeting alumni of the university and being able to connect on that level is probably something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”


Emanuel Johnson
Majors: Political Science and Economics, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Chicago native Emanuel Johnson served seven years in the U.S. Navy before coming to GW. He remained a part of the military community on campus, first joining and later becoming president of GW Veterans. As he heads back to Chicago after graduation, he says he’ll take with him the lessons he learned from a famous GW alumnus.

“A great moment was when I had the opportunity to meet Sen. Mark Warner. Just hearing the story of how he transitioned from GW to law school, and when he didn’t have a job as a lawyer he slept on friends’ couches, slept in his station wagon, but eventually he started a really successful telecommunications company. The idea of sticking with your dreams and pursuing your goals and believing in something even when it gets rough—hearing that was an important moment for me.”


Jennifer Minor
Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Graduate School of Education and Human Development

Jennifer Minor came to GW because she wanted to give back, getting her master’s in clinical mental health counseling from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. “I’d been through my own mental health journey, and I wanted to help others,” she says. During her time at GSEHD, she had the opportunity to help not only her clients in the community but some of her peers as well.

“My most memorable moment at GW isn’t so much a moment, because it’s all been a really good experience, but the people I came in with. My cohort has made it really special. We’re all getting our master’s in counseling—some of us are in the school counseling program, some of us are in mental health—and we take our core classes together, we go through this really intense internship process. We all have two internships, one at a field site of our choice and one at the Community Counseling Services Center on campus, and they take place at the same time. It’s hard, but we’re all here for each other. I’ve gotten some amazing therapy from my classmates.”


Maurissa Walls
Major: Marketing, School of Business

Maurissa Walls said that being a GW student means being a part of the D.C. community, which provides rare opportunities for engaging with leaders from government, business, the arts and advocacy groups. That unparalleled access drives students to consider their place in national conversations and engage in service, according to Ms. Walls.

“One of my favorite moments was participating in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington going into my sophomore year. The energy I felt when I was there isn’t something that you can create, and it wasn’t something that I had experienced before. This year, I served as president of the National Council of Negro Women, a service and advocacy group headquartered in D.C. The organization’s founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, and former president, Dorothy Height, were big civil rights advocates. So to be there 50 years later, participating in the march that they were a part of and helped to organize was really special. To see people from all over the U.S. and other GW students walking in the march and to learn what issues were important to them made me realize we still have a reason to be marching even though we’ve all worked together as a country to overcome a lot of inequalities.”


Chris Stillwell
Major: International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs

Chris Stillwell knows exactly what he will be doing after graduation: He is going to be commissioned as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. He has picked up plenty of leadership experience at GW during the last four years to guide him. As a member of the Student Association, Mr. Stillwell represented the Elliott School and served on the finance committee; he was the director of finance for the International Affairs Society; and he participated in the Hoya Battalion’s Reserve Officers Training Corps.

“I took a class with Amb. Thomas E. McNamara on counterterrorism. I’m going to be an intelligence officer in the Army, so it was really cool to be taught by an ambassador. He brought us firsthand accounts of real-life things he’d dealt with as ambassador at-large for counter terrorism. I also got to meet former U.N. Amb. Thomas Pickering when he came to GW last semester. It’s been an amazing experience getting to talk one-on-one with people who are changing policy throughout the world.”

GW VALOR Wraps Up Second Year

May 11, 2015
By Ruth Steinhardt

(From left) Columbian College School of Arts and Sciences Dean Ben Vinson, Associate Provost for Veterans and Military Affairs Mel Williams and Graduate School of Education and Human Development Dean Michael Feuer at the GW VALOR Excellence Awards.

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.”