April 18, 2014

Grant will help Veterans Service upgrade office

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A $10,000 grant will help upgrade the existing Veterans Service office at Southern Illinois University Carbondale into a Veterans Center. 

The Student Veterans of America (SVA) and The Home Depot Foundation today (April 18) announced the recipients of $100,000 in total grants through a VetCenter Initiative partnership.

The university’s Student Veterans Organization, a registered student organization, is among the 11 grant recipients receiving funds to construct veteran-specific resource centers on their campuses.  The funds will go toward purchasing furniture, electronics and additional resources to upgrade existing space in Woody Hall and provide expanded service to match the renovated and expanded Veteran Services area planned for the third floor of Woody Hall C-Wing. 

“These funds will assist in providing a warm and welcoming environment for our student veterans,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  “We value the service and commitment made by our student veterans and we continue to work to ensure they have the available educational resources to achieve their educational goals.” 

Interim Dean of Students Katherine L. Sermersheim said the grant is important for the student veterans; the existing lounge space is in a conference room.  The planned expansion will provide adequate office space for SIU staff and grant-funded Veterans Administration and “Hope for the Warriors” programs that partner with the university in providing services for student veterans, Sermersheim said. 

“The enhancements to the student veterans lounge, coupled with the growth and expansion of the office and resources offered to our student veterans helps to send the message that our veterans are appreciated and supported at SIU Carbondale,” she said. 

There were nearly 100 grant applicants. Walter Tillman, program manager of Student Veterans of America, said SIU Carbondale’s application was "one of our strongest based off both the quality and thoroughness of their proposal." 

"They were able to clearly articulate both the need for the renovation as well as the anticipated outcomes of the project," he said.  "Their presentation and polish were of a superior quality that we're quickly coming to know and expect out of the Saluki Veterans Organization." 

Ryan McKennedy, graduate adviser for the Student Veterans Organization, said that until recently veterans on campus had their own office, but not their own space.  Upon learning of the grant opportunity, it was clear the student organization needed to apply, he said.  McKennedy credits Jayme Fisher and Alan Karas, the RSO’s president and vice president, respectively, several faculty members, and the Illinois Small Business Development Center and International Trade Center at SIU for their assistance. 

“Our goal is to create a space that is conducive to learning and social interaction among veterans and other students on campus,” McKennedy, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, said.  

Paul S. Copeland, SIU’s Veterans Services coordinator, said the objective is to create a comfortable space where veterans can gather for small group discussions, study and relax, and also provide an improved environment for students and staff. 

“The benefit for student veterans will come with increased traffic within the office so that students become more aware of resources, collaborate and study more effectively and become more engaged with other students who have similar backgrounds and who share similar interests,” he said. 

The Student Veterans of America is a non-profit coalition of more than 950 student veteran organizations on college campuses throughout the world.  The organization’s goal is providing military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy to succeed in higher education and after graduation.