I have some exciting news that I can finally share with my friends and family. Back in late February, I received a phone call from a number I did not recognize -I almost did not answer-. It was a an excited Morgan Kaminski from the Student Veterans of America calling to congratulate me on my selection for the 2020 Google – SVA STEM Scholarship.
I have to admit, I was a little surprise that I was selected. The last quarter had been so hectic are busy that I totally forgot that I had applied for this scholarship last November. My Fall 2019 quarter of school was a tough one -by design we’ve been told-. After finals week, I remember going through my head thinking about if this degree and career path was right for me. Going back to school at 28 was hard enough, but restarting and moving a different direction after 2 years of studying would be even harder.
Receiving this scholarship was not just a great financial and networking opportunity, but was a huge morale boost going into the winter and spring quarters. I felt like my decision to go back to school had been validated. It showed me just how hard I had worked in and out of the classroom the last two years. Most importantly, it reinvigorated my confidence that the Navy worked so hard to instill in me.
Due to COVID-19 and the current status of our world, some of the aspects of this scholarship cannot be fulfilled. While that is sad news to hear, I am still beyond grateful to Jared Lyon, all of the SVA staff, and Google. Google has reach out to me personally to start a dialogue that will continue throughout the rest of my academic career and beyond. I cannot express my gratitude. Thank you.
My History with the Student Veterans of America
In The Beginning
My journey with the SVA started with my local chapter on my college campus, day one of my new academic adventure. It was Welcome Week and then-president Chuck Scott was standing at a small table with coffee and donuts wearing a UWB SVA t-shirt. After a brief introduction and cup of coffee I was on my way to class.
At the time, our school did not have a dedicated space for veterans, but veteran services had a small desk tucked away in the career center. Luckily, we have a supportive administration that had been working on developing a dedicated space for veterans. A few months later, the Veterans Resource Center opened. Once opened, it became a place to study and do school work as well as hang out and make friends with other student veterans on campus.
I credit my introduction to the SVA locally and nationally to our VRC. Without it, I probably would not had been involved at the level that I currently am. Just by the nature of my being present in the room when and becoming friends with other SVA members and Officers helped me succeed. That spring when elections for positions came, I ran as Secretary and was elected unanimously.
SVA Leadership Institute, Washington DC
In June of 2019, I got an email forwarded to me from our veteran services coordinator at my school. It was from the SVA national headquarters reminding people that there was only a week left to apply for the 2019 Leadership Institute. Not knowing exactly what it was, I applied. Who wouldn’t want a free trip to our capital for a week? It was in September, before my classes started, so the timing would be perfect.
Fast forward to August. I hadn’t heard anything from the SVA and so I planned a road trip with my cousin around the Pacific Northwest. Two days before leaving on our two week trip, I got an email from SVA saying I was selected. We had to scrap half of our trip because we had planned on returning after I would need to fly to Washington, DC.
The SVA Leadership Institute provided me invaluable personal growth. The whole week was focused and tailored to the individual and developing a leader. The mentoring and networking was invaluable. I met 100 student veterans like myself from 78 colleges across the country. I continued learned and grow from my military service even after it was over.
Over the course of the week, cohorts worked various workshops developing core values and personal leadership traits. While the Leadership Institute focused on developing the individual, it was done so in a collaborative way.
SVA 2020 National Convention, Los Angeles, CA
My next engagement with the SVA was at the National Convention (NatCon) in LA. NatCon is a yearly gathering of over 2000 student veterans and professionals. Over three days, attendees choose between structured panels and speakers with content aimed at categories of personal, profession, and chapter development. It was great to see those I met at the Leadership Institute as well.
Old Friends Reunited
When I was stationed at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Florida (2014-2016) I worked with Kate. She was among my core group of friends that I had made while in Florida and we stay semi in-touch over the years. She is an FSU law student and SVA chapter leader as well. At NatCon, we saw each other for the first time in four years and spent the weekend catching up in between events. She was the first Navy friend that I have seen post separation. It was a bag of mixed emotions and made me realize how great some of my friendships were.
SVA on Capitol Hill, Washington DC
At NatCon I learned that on March 3, Student Veterans of America would testify before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee on 2020 legislative priorities. Once again, I made the trip to DC.
During the hearing Jared laid out our policy priorities on behalf of student veterans, service members, families, survivors, and allies for the coming year. This annual opportunity allowed us to voice student veteran needs and policy recommendations before the lawmakers and staff responsible for advocating for veterans in Congress.
The policy priorities advocated for this year came directly from student veterans. Thanks to conversations and feedback from NatCon 2020, Regional Summits, The Leadership Institute, and chapter visits, we’ve built a robust agenda that was brought to Congress.
My journey with the SVA is not over. I still have one more year as a student veteran. However, I know that even after graduation, I will continue to be involved with such an amazing community.