April 18, 2011 — The University of Virginia currently lists more than 870 student organizations with which students can involve themselves once enrolled. With such a variety, one would think that every possible area of interest, need or support has already been organized.
It turns out that is not the case. One group of students did not have a Universitywide presence – until now.
Military Veterans @ UVa, the University's newest student organization, was created this semester by Curry School of Education doctoral student Seth Hayden and master's student Alison Cutright, both in the Counselor Education program. Military Veterans @ UVa is a student-led organization of student veterans, active duty military personnel and civilian students that meets monthly.
"It seems that the professional schools, such as Darden and the Law School, have organizations designed specifically for veterans," Hayden said. "But undergraduate students as well as graduate students in other disciplines do not have a student organization designed specifically around veterans' issues."
The mission of Military Veterans @ UVa is to provide a place for veterans or active-duty military to connect with one another, learn about resources to which they have access – counseling, academic and financial aid – and reflect on shared experiences. The veteran and active-duty military students often do not represent the traditional university student who enrolls directly from high school.
"My hope is that the Military Veterans @ UVa provides a forum for veterans on Grounds to connect and support each other in their academic, personal and professional development," Hayden said.
"I hope this organization will give military vets an opportunity to bond with and support one another as they transition into and through U.Va.," Cutright said. "We hope that they will get to learn from one another, make meaningful connections, and simply have a place to go (including counseling resources) when they need guidance and support."
Neither Hayden nor Cutright are veterans themselves. But working with veterans has become significant to each.
"I was introduced to military issues by a master's professor who had military experience," Hayden said. "Since that introduction, I have worked with veterans in both practice and research for several years to determine effective methods in which to support military personnel and families."
Cutright's interest has peaked since her work in school began.
"I have always been intrigued by and respected the lives service members and their families lead," Cutright said. "Working in a school system, I am now even more interested because many of the students I encounter have immediate or extended family members in the military. These families face many challenges and as a school counselor I hope to support the students and their families however possible."
Hayden came to the Curry School's counselor education doctoral program nearly three years ago with a passion for mitigating the toll that war takes on soldiers and their families.
Since then, he has counseled 16 military veterans with traumatic brain injuries, raised awareness within Curry's outreach clinics about the unique needs of veterans, conducted research on Army services to families of deployed soldiers, and now has established a student organization designed to support veterans enrolled as students across U.Va.
Military Veterans @ UVa will meet Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in Bavaro Hall, room 104. Active-duty U.S. Army Capt. Damon Armeni, a student in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences' foreign affairs program, will speak.
The University does not systematically track which students are veterans or active military and is unable to provide a figure of how many of each are currently enrolled at U.Va.
The Curry School typically has several active-duty military enrolled each year. In partnership with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Curry School offers a master's program in physical education designed specifically for individuals who will teach in the Department of Physical Education at West Point.
The Curry School's Counselor Education program is the area that has brought together the most support for the organization. Eleanor Boyce and Erica Craig are studying in the master's program and have decided to get involved. Both students got involved with the organization after its inception.
"There is a great need to provide graduate and undergraduate U.Va. students who are active duty or veterans with an opportunity to network and find out about services available to them on-Grounds," said Sandra Lopez-Baez, associate professor of counselor education and Hayden's faculty adviser.
The group currently has a small number of members and is looking for individuals who are veterans as well as those who are interested in supporting this population to join.
"I have no preconceived notions regarding what the group will be and hope it adapts to whatever would be the most useful for veterans who are students at U.Va.," Hayden said.
Both Hayden and Cutright will graduate in May. However, Boyce and Craig will continue to be involved through the next academic year.