The classroom of the future has arrived at the University of Arizona.
The UA Veterans Education and Transition Services
In advance of Veterans Day, we give pause to consider the contributions that student veterans make well beyond their time serving in the military.
For a number of University of Arizona student veterans, the charge to serve did not end when they ended their service with the military.
With Veterans Day approaching, several members of the UA's veteran community shared reasons that they are driven in their service to address what they view as critical structural deficiencies that challenge veterans and civilians alike.
"Our student veterans are still very driven to serve, and are actively engaged across the community while they are obtaining their degrees," said Cody Nicholls, the UA's assistant dean of students for Veterans Education and Transition Services.
"In our veterans, we can see that drive to serve, that drive to engage, that drive to identify that mission and purpose," said Nicholls, a veteran who served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve for a nine-year period beginning in 2000.
For example, those involved with the UA chapter of the Student Veterans of America (SVA) have helped enhance the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona's community garden and have aided those who are homeless. On Saturday, students will volunteer at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System during the VA Veteran Celebration Day, which will be held noon to 5 p.m. at the hospital, located at 3601 S. Sixth Ave.
Also, trained volunteers at the UA Student VETS Center ensure that veterans new to the institution receive personalized service and care to help them transition into University life.
For many student veterans, ensuring that programs and initiatives are sustained is important. So they are involved on campus and in local and international communities in establishing or growing programs and projects.
Advocating international engagement and civility
For Felisa "Farzana" Hervey, her attention is on improving relations between U.S. and Afghan citizens, a personal charge that came during her U.S. Air Force tour in Afghanistan. While there, Hervey observed that citizens had very little contact or information about one another when connections were not through governments or primary media outlets.
"Citizens have a lot in common, and we realize there is a huge gap between them," Hervey said. "We want to help people to see that involvement matters, and it doesn't always take a trip to Afghanistan or the U.S. to be involved."
Consequently, Hervey and her colleagues in 2012 launched Civil Vision International (CVI), a global nonprofit organization that works to connect U.S. and Afghan citizens with the goal of increased cross-cultural understanding and networking.
Hervey, CVI's president, hopes the organization will, as it has already, enable citizens from both countries to engage not only in dialogue, but international projects that promote education, peace and stability in Afghanistan. Her work earned her a military scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation.
"CVI's mission is to connect, inform and inspire citizens on both sides," said Hervey, who completed her military term of service and is now pursuing a doctoral degree in the UA School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. "Connecting is so very important, and a lot of ideas and visions can come from that."
Since CVI launched, it has grown rapidly.
The organization now has a mobile app, and its Facebook page accumulated more than 60,000 followers in less than one year. On the organization's YouTube page, Hervey and her colleagues post regular interviews with Afghan citizens who speak about their daily lives and the future of the country.
CVI also launched an internship program.
Currently, as part of the internship program, an Air Force Academy student is living in Kabul for nine months, serving with CVI partner Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies and learning about the daily lives and perspectives of those living in Afghanistan.
Also, Hervey and her collaborators, including the UA Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflict, are holding a student dialogue later this month via teleconference, which is swiftly becoming a regular occurrence for those involved with CVI.
"Regular citizens have so much importance, so much power and potential to make a huge difference in each other's lives," Hervey said.
"American citizens have something to give that is important, which is genuine friendship and partnership. The same is true on the Afghan side," she said. "I see so much thirst for that, but also so much uncertainty around how to do that. That is why CVI exists – to facilitate that."
Veterans serving veterans
UA student veteran and Tucson native Matthew Randle was instrumental in the development and evolution of the UA Student VETS Center through his involvement with the UA Veterans' Education and Transition Services (V.E.T.S.) Initiative.
Though his involvement, Randle was able to help UA student veterans gain priority registration and also saw the expansion in both the physical space and programming at the center. Thanks to his contributions, and the work of others on campus, the UA is now known as a national leader for supporting veterans entering higher education.
Randle, who served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army for five years, would later aid in the development of the Veterans' Advocacy Law Clinic out of the UA James E. Rogers College of Law to help serve the legal needs of veterans, forming a partnership with Tucson's Veterans Court.
His efforts earned him a Pat Tillman Foundation scholarship.
Today, he continues his work with the court and clinic, and also is a member of the national SVA board of directors.
"When you are driven to serve, it's intrinsic; it is the core of who you are," Randle said.
A third-year UA law student, Randle has helped with the growth of the clinic, which now has a full-time clinic director, Kristine Huskey, a famed attorney and visiting UA associate clinical professor of law.
Also, the clinic has expanded its work and the type of cases it takes. In addition to city court, the clinic also works with county justice courts and expects to soon begin working on cases in federal court. Other recently developed partnerships include work with Old Pueblo Community Services and La Frontera Arizona, both Tucson nonprofits.
"We continue to see a huge number of clients, and we are helping them to grow and to be successful," Randle said.
Similar to other student veterans, Randle said such work is not merely about the service. Randle said he is actively working to address deficits in service and support for veterans in dire need, such as those who are contesting a dishonorable discharge, who want to gain disability benefits or are appealing criminal charges brought against them.
It's not just a commitment to volunteer work; it is calling, he said.
"I served and always had a desire to, and growing the V.E.T.S office, I found a real sense, mission and purpose again. It's the wood in my fire," Randle said.
"When I decided the law degree was an opportunity for me to acquire a set of skills to further what I could do for veterans and my community, I was grateful to be accepted here," Randle said. "I care about my brothers and sisters, and being able to serve my community and my culture is a significant thing for me."
The UA Veterans Education and Transition Services