Coming to college and making connections can be a challenge for new students. That challenge can be even greater for veterans who are entering college following military service. Two Virginia Tech students have started a new group on campus to address this challenge and provide a network for veterans at the university.
Gino Vivalda of Chantilly, Va., a junior majoring in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, and Zack Mayo of Blacksburg, Va., a junior majoring in history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, recognized the need for a support network for student veterans at Virginia Tech. Both students are veterans themselves, Vivalda served four years in the Army and Mayo served five years in the Navy. The two worked together to create Veterans@VT to provide a social, academic, and career network for students who share a common bond as veterans.
“We wanted to help create a network for incoming and current student veterans,” said Vivalda. “This group is less structured than most student organizations; it’s about creating an informal network of people that you can contact when you need them — friends you can reach out to.”
With the Post-Sept. 11 GI Bill, colleges are seeing increasing numbers of veterans and strengthening their focus on the needs of this particular student population. Numerous individuals and departments at Virginia Tech have been working to create a welcoming environment for veterans, and Veterans@VT is an important part of that effort.
“A lot more veterans are coming in, and they need to know that they are not alone,” Mayo said. “We want them to know that there is a group of people here that you can already relate to.”
The Center for Academic Enrichment and Excellence and the Dean of Students Office co-hosted a Student Veterans Welcome Reception in September, which was followed by a meeting of Veterans@VT to give the students a chance to meet and get to know each other.
The group currently has 35 members, including doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students representing active duty, reservists, and all areas of the armed forces. Mayo and Vivalda plan to continue expanding the group and reaching out to current and incoming students. Veterans@VT is a recognized chapter of Student Veterans of America and a recognized student organization with the Department of Student Activites within the Division of Student Affairs at Virginia Tech.
“I think it is important to note that Zack and Gino are not doing this for attention or self-promotion, but purely because they really care — they are the embodiment of our motto ‘That I May Serve,’” said Elaine Humphrey, associate director for research and assessment for the Center for Academic Enrichment and Excellence. “They have a solid understanding of the challenges of students who are veterans at Virginia Tech and are very articulate in sharing their insights and experiences with others.”