A student panel, faculty-staff workshop, health roundtable, keynote address, new student success programming, and a virtual art exhibit are among the highlights of the second annual Veteran and Military-Affiliated Students’ Symposium as Washington State University set for 9:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tues., March 23.

All faculty, staff, and students are welcome to register to attend the annual event, which features the theme, “The Power of a Veteran-Ready College.” Zoom connection information will be sent to registrants.

“Members of the WSU Veteran and Military-Affiliated Students Task Force have worked diligently since the first symposium last spring at WSU Tri-Cities to make this 2021 event meaningful and relevant to the needs and concerns of our veteran and military-affiliated students,” said Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for community, equity, and inclusive excellence in the Division of Student Affairs.

“By having the right people gathered around the planning table, change is possible and we’ve seen the impact that these relationships can have systemwide on these efforts.”

“This year many programs and people have taken steps to advance awareness of and attention to the needs of veterans, an important segment of our student population,” said Michael Highfill, executive director of the Office of Academic Engagement (OAE) in the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement. “Most important among those have been WSU’s student veterans themselves. They have advocated, raised awareness, and been instrumental in the development of new student success initiatives.”

Highfill and Nolan will be among those describing aspects of progress at the Tuesday event.

Events at Symposium 2021

  • 9:00-10:00 a.m.:

    Opening Session and Progress Updates

    Featured speakers include President Kirk Schulz, WSU Student Veterans Committee President Chris Mann, Graduate Program Military Affairs Manager Matt Beer, Global Campus Communications and PR Coordinator Jeff Willadsen, Office of the Registrar’s Office of Veterans Affairs Coordinator Penny Martinez, WSU Vancouver Veterans Affairs Coordinator Michaela Loveridge, Nolan, and Highfill.

  • 11:00 a.m.-Noon:

    “Veteran Voices” Student Panel Discussion

    Focused on raising awareness of challenges faced by WSU veterans and military-affiliated students

    Panelists and the names of their WSU campus are: Cory Gardner, Pullman; Vladi Ivanova, Global; Michael Greer, Everett; Michael Cortez, Vancouver; and, Benjamin Bush, Tri Cities.

  • 1:00-2:00 p.m.:

    “From Theory to Impact: Working with the Military-connected Population,” a Workshop for Faculty and Staff

    The presentation provides a theoretical framing to assist with understanding the experiences and development of military-connected students, and provides a foundation for practitioners to work from in order to create positive experiences on campus, as well as sought-after outcomes. The facilitator will be Derek Abbey, CEO of Project Recover and Seattle native.  Abbey served for 23 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and his academic research and post-military career have focused on connecting veterans with college opportunities. Project Recover is a collaborative effort to enlist 21st-century science and technology in a quest to find and repatriate Americans missing in action (MIA) since World War II to provide recognition and closure for families and the nation.

  • 4:30-5:30 p.m.:

    Roundtable for WSU Veteran and Military-Affiliated Students

    Discussion to address resources, misconceptions, and roadblocks related to physical and mental health

    Participants include Cougar Health Services Executive Director Joel Schwartzkopf, ACCESS Center Student Services Advisor Davi Kallman, Spokane Vet Center EMDR Therapist Eliseo “Joe” Dumlao, and WSU Dept. of Psychology Professor Walter Scott.

  • 6:00-6:30 p.m.:

    Keynote Address on “Building a Legacy Through Service”

    Student Veterans of America (SVA) Vice President of Programs and Services Abby Kinch will share stories about student veterans. At her job, Kinch is responsible for the creation, implementation, and success of numerous functions designed to empower veterans in higher education. The SVA network includes more than 1,500 on-campus chapters in every U.S. state plus three other nations, representing 750,000 student veterans.

Virtual Art Exhibit

Associated with the symposium, an online art exhibit has been created and placed online that features several illustrations by World War II Army veteran George Withers, narrated by his son, Brian. Withers was a celebrated New York artist and illustrator. The art covers several periods of his military experience, including his hospitalization to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. The exhibit helps to show the power of the creative arts and counseling in healing from trauma, noted Jason Abrams, principal assistant for student engagement and CEIE.

Grant funding for Veterans Student Support Services in 2020-21

In late summer 2020, OAE partnered with task force members and the Office of Veterans Affairs to receive millions of dollars in U.S. Dept. of Education grant funding, part of which has allowed the establishment of a new Veterans Student Support Services unit to serve low-income and first-generation veterans, and those with a disability, from across the university who are seeking a college education. Led by Ali Bretthauer and Oscar Martinez–himself a veteran and current WSU Ph.D. student–the program provides such services as academic and career counseling, financial education, workshops, a new fall UNIV 295 college-success course tailored to veterans (Introduction to Models of Leadership), and academic-engagement activities. Veterans Student Support Services also employs a team of undergraduate and graduate student veterans who serve as mentors and advisors to students system-wide.

Progress since the first symposium

The first symposium held at WSU Tri-Cities in March 2020 drew attention to veterans’ issues, calling for an examination of the challenges to veterans at WSU and to determine intentional system-wide steps to improve support for them.  There are about 1,600 veteran and military-affiliated students at WSU, which includes veterans, active-duty service members, guardsmen, reservists, cadets, midshipmen, and their family members.

On March 2, President Schulz and several university officers issued a recommitment statement to WSU veteran and military-affiliated students, pledging support for their academic achievement and personal development.

Among several advances that will be discussed at the symposium are the:

  • development of a new veteran affairs website that will soon go live
  • publication of several student veteran stories in WSU communications aimed to inform faculty, staff, and students
  • formalization of the WSU Veteran and Military-Affiliated Students Task Force. Nolan sees the group as both advisory and responsive, able to monitor ongoing progress and help the university meet the unique needs of these students.

Registration for the symposium will continue throughout the day of the event, so guests can join presentations at any time.