Composed of member chapters on college campuses nationwide, Student Veterans of America (SVA) is a nonprofit organization that helps veterans overcome obstacles in order to reintegrate them into campus life and help them achieve academic success.
“Essentially our job is to help veterans transition from the service into higher education and into successful, rewarding careers,” says Walter Tillman, director of programs for SVA. “The way we really accomplish this is by leveraging our over 1,300-strong chapter network. We train our leaders [through] central training events to show them how to be an effective force for change on campus.”
These training events make up SVA’s Leadership Institute Series, which consists of nine Leadership Summits — which kicked off in San Francisco this year in late June — and culminate in the Leadership Institute in October, taking place this year in Savannah, Ga. The summits are designed to provide SVA college chapter leaders with the guidance, skills, and training necessary to lead their chapters and improve the lives of veterans on campus.
“The military leaves you with a lot of great skills, but not many people get a block of instruction on how to run a student organization,” Tillman says. “So we partnered with the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University to develop a curriculum [aimed] at empowering those campus-level leaders and teaching them the skills to be successful.”
These two-day leadership summits walk SVA student leaders through how to write a business plan for their chapter by thinking critically about what it is they want to accomplish on campus and how they will achieve their goals. At the end of the first day of the summit, participants are then placed with mentors from SVA corporate partner institutions, who provide feedback. The following day, they present their plans to a panel of judges.
“We teach them how to craft a mission statement and how to take [their] objectives and build off that mission statement to make sure their actions are within the strategic construct of what they’re really trying to accomplish,” Tillman says.
Following the individual summits is the Leadership Institute, which is a larger, three-day event that brings together about 125 of SVA’s “best and brightest chapter leaders,” Tillman says. “Here we really get down to the nitty-gritty, the tactical — how do you fundraise, how do you market, how do you accomplish those very granular tasks as a chapter leader,” he says.
Through these 10 events, SVA trains a total of more than 600 student veterans to be better leaders on their campuses. In addition to San Francisco, this year’s summits will take place in Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and St. Louis.
Since being founded in 2008, SVA has grown from just 20 chapters to more than 1,300, representing approximately 450,000 student veterans across the country.
“I myself actually attended [the Leadership Institute Series] when I was a chapter leader back in 2013 and wound up getting hired on,” says Tillman, “so it’s been really rewarding to see it grow and to see the impact that it’s been able to have.”●
Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. Learn more about Student Veterans of America and the Leadership Institute Series at studentveterans.org.