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Making a Difference

SVA holds its ninth annual national conference.
By Eric Gage

Last month, I had the honor to attend my fourth Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference. I attended twice as a student and this was my second time as a member of National HQ staff, serving as Director of Chapter Services at Student Veterans of America. NatCon is a major event, each year taking place in a different location with this year more than 1,700 in attendance.

SVA concluded its 9th Annual National Conference in Anaheim, Calif. on January 7, 2017 on a high note with a record number of attendees. On Friday, SVA President and CEO Jared Lyon announced the initial findings of the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST) as well as a new resource for those seeking meaningful employment. On Saturday, SVA honored distinguished student veterans as well as supporters during the SVA Honors Awards banquet.

Attendees from across the country convened for this year’s conference held at the Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Grand Californian. Attendees heard from General Session speakers like Mr. Bob McDonald, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Brian Duffy, Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and were even entertained by comedian Christopher Titus. SVA hosted 48 breakout sessions to educate attendees on topics ranging from supporting chapter services to empowering women veterans. 

“The theme of this year’s conference was empowering tomorrow’s leaders and nothing says that more than the experience our student veterans had at NatCon, said Lyon. “They came here to learn, to network, and to better themselves through the transformative power of higher education.” 

SVA previewed the first results of NVEST to attendees. Completed in partnership with Department of Veterans Affairs and National Student Clearinghouse it represents the first research done on the academic outcomes of nearly one million student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. 

“We know that student veterans are more likely to graduate and have a higher GPA than their peers. I’m excited about the opportunity to share the results of our research later this month and change the narrative around student veterans in higher education,” Lyon said.   

Attendees also networked with the most diverse collection of non-profit organizations, businesses, and institutions of higher education under one roof. The SVA Campus featured over 30 companies from more than a dozen industries, fifteen top institutions of higher education, and over a dozen non-profit partners. Companies such as Raytheon, Accenture, Microsoft, Prudential, Bank of America, Home Depot, and PwC were there not only to share opportunities with the talented pool of SVA members, but to also share in their professional development. 

My role at NatCon2017 was meant to be leading three breakout sessions, interact with student attendees and general conference support. Due to a member of the SVA team departing, my role in this conference changed about a month before it started. My new role became leading 4 breakout sessions, and to organize, manage and emcee the National Business Plan Competition. I also became the member of SVA staff responsible for managing a good amount of the conference.

I am happy to say it turned out to be an amazing event! With the support of the full SVA team, we were able to provide a truly epic event. I could not be more proud of our team and the event we put on.

SVA announced the winners of the 2017 SVA Honors awards including:

  • SVA Student Veteran of the Year: Kate Tillotson (University of Tulsa)
  • SVA Chapter of the Year: Washington University Student Veteran Association (Washington University in St. Louis)
  • SVA Chapter Advisor of the Year: Ross Bryant (University of Nevada Las Vegas)
  • SVA Infrastructure Partner of the Year: The Home Depot Foundation
  • Campus Impact Partner of the Year: Prudential 
  • Research Partner of the Year (3): Lumina, Kresge, and Google
  • Programmatic Partner of the Year (2): Accenture and Bank of America
  • Daniel J. Edelman Corporate Champion of the Year: Raytheon
  • Business Plan Competition Winner: Blue Hen Veterans (University of Delaware)

To the student veterans who attended NatCon2017, thank you for making it such an amazing event! Your passion for serving your campus community is inspiring. To the student veterans who are not yet active in SVA or couldn’t make it to NatCon2017: we are here for you too, we know what you are capable of and are always here to support you.  

Please let me know how I can support you in your mission. We can all work to leave higher education better than we found it. To our partners and sponsors, thank you for supporting SVA and our mission, we could not do it without you. I look forward to working with all of you. I know now more than ever that you are all Tomorrow’s Leaders. You are the reason I go to work every day, and I truly love my job!

Eric Gage is Director of Chapter Services at Student Veterans of America.

Additional Info

  • Issue: 12
  • Volume: 1
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