Gary Schell and Miryam Valdivia Romero rehearse presentation

Student veterans seeking to boost academics, career prospects needed for new scholar program

By

Jerry Gonzalez

Arizona State University is searching for challenge-seeking military veteran students to sign up by Sept. 2 for a new program that aims to improve academics and carve a path toward career success.

The Veterans Scholar Program is an initiative by the Pat Tillman Veterans Center in collaboration with the Public Service Academy, made possible by a $100,000 kick-start grant by the ASU Foundation engagement program Women & Philanthropy.  

Participants can earn up to a $1,000 stipend to use for expenses related to starting a new career, such as purchasing a new suit, attending a professional conference or paying for a certification exam.  

However, there is more to the Veterans Scholar Program than money.

“The goal is to really elevate student veteran success,” said Brett Hunt, Public Service Academy executive director. “We do that in three different ways … academic, professionalism and networking.”

Academically, there will be monitoring and tutoring help if needed, Hunt said. The professionalism side will focus on training veterans on everything from building a LinkedIn profile and writing effective resumes to preparing for job interviews. The third element focuses on involving veterans in more networking.  

“Those three components all come together,” Hunt said. “When they complete the program, they will be eligible for a tiered professional-development stipend based on their active participation in the program and improved GPA.”

“Participation” means veterans’ involvement in events that support the program’s three components, and engagement in at least one volunteer service opportunity each semester. The first volunteer event for this initial cohort will be a joint session with Public Service Academy students planned for November during ASU’s Salute to Service, Hunt said.

Any veteran graduate student or undergraduates in their junior or senior year may apply to compete for a slot, but the ideal candidate is a middle-of-the-road student.

“For the most part, society looks at veterans as we’re either heroes or homeless,” said Army veteran Michelle Loposky, Pat Tillman Veterans Center assistant director of outreach. “So we’re either overachievers or underachievers, but there is this big mass of veterans in the middle who are just the average individual. So we really want to target those students who just need a little extra step up to improve in their academics.”

Loposky said there is another reason veterans may want to jump on this opportunity.

“There is one thing that a lot of us veterans miss from the military, and that is a challenge,” Loposky said. “This is a way to get them focused on a mission, to challenge them, to see that they can also achieve this in their academic pursuits.”

Running the Veterans Scholar Program will be ASU seniors Miryam Valdivia Romero and Gary Schell. As veterans, they have experienced the challenges of transitioning from military service and see great value in a program that will prepare veterans get to their next stage in life.

“The beauty of the VSP is that we can help with the transition process, the next level,” said Schell, a Marine veteran and criminal justice major. “Whether they want an internship, graduate school position or whether they’re going to their career profession, whatever that next transition is for them, the VSP can be there to be the advocate and help that process go more fluidly.”

Valdivia Romero, a veteran still serving in the Navy Reserve and studying criminology, homeland security and French, experienced transition challenges and is looking to make it better for others.

“As a veteran coming in I didn’t give myself time to adapt into the civilian life when I came back from deployment; I just dove into school,” said Peru native Valdivia Romero. “This is a perfect opportunity for me to give back to a community that has given me so much.”

The Veterans Scholar Program is aiming for 100 student veterans to start their first cohort, with future cohorts selected near the start of every fall semester. A kickoff leadership seminar for all those chosen this year takes place Sep. 21. The seminar will include workshops on networking, career advice and a guest speaker. 

This new program exemplifies how the ASU community strives to take care of student veterans by creating opportunities to help them succeed. Michigan native Schell attests to the fact that ASU bests peer schools.

“I had heard of the Tillman Center and then I applied to MSU [Michigan State University] and ASU,” Schell said. “It was night-and-day difference as to the veterans assistance. It was hands down ASU on top.”  

Top photo: ASU seniors and military veterans Gary Schell and Miryam Valdivia Romero rehearse a presentation Aug. 22 in the Pat Tillman Veterans Center about the new Veterans Scholar Program. Schell and Valdivia Romero are in charge of managing the program.