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November 5, 2012

Student veteran groups win awards, set national examples

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Student veterans from the University of Evansville, Indiana University Southeast and Purdue University won top honors and $2,000 each in a Student Veterans Organization Hall of Fame Competition, the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University announced Friday (Nov. 2).

The event, which was open to the public in Indianapolis, showcased the talents and achievements of the best of Indiana's student veteran organizations. UE Vets, the student veteran organization associated with the University of Evansville, won first place. IU Southeast and Purdue took home second and third place honors, respectively. Other top groups participating received $1,000; they represented Ball State University, Ivy Tech Bloomington and Ivy Tech Sellersburg.

The event was the culmination of previously held grant competitions sponsored by Operation Diploma, the post-secondary education initiative of the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI). All student veteran groups presented to a panel of expert judges before a live audience at the NCAA Hall of Champions.

"We are so proud of each organization that competed in the hall of fame event," said Stacie Hitt, director of Operation Diploma. "They are excellent examples of successful student organizations, and the public competition inspired those in the audience."

Evansville's group offered a presentation that explained how it has pursued its established mission to "provide support and outreach to veterans, current service members, and their families as they transition from the military to college and beyond to the workforce."

"University of Evansville is an example of what a SVO (student veteran organization) should be, and not just in Indiana; they are a national example of what these groups can aspire to be," said Michael Dakduk, a competition judge and executive director of Student Veterans of American.

Evansville veterans have successfully competed for Operation Diploma grants every year since 2009, and GI Jobs named the group a military-friendly school from 2010-2013. The university's 2009 partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to serve as a Yellow Ribbon Institution of Higher Learning has led to a 383 percent increase in student veteran enrollment since 2009, according to the Evansville veteran student organization.

They also have put on a number of collaborative events, including a Veterans Day 5K Walk, Run andRoll Race, a Veterans' Fair, and a city-wide book read aimed at increasing understanding of readjustment issues after military deployments. These events engaged a number of different constituencies, including Evansville alumni veterans, their campus and student veterans at the University of Southern Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College Southwest.

The Indiana University Southeast's group was recognized, in part, for strong relationships and collaborations with its campus and community constituencies, including other veterans service organizations and the neighboring campus of Ivy Tech Sellersburg.

Purdue's student group is poised to implement a veteran mentorship program, and its initiative led the university to form a learning community for veterans this fall and hire a veteran and non-traditional student coordinator in Purdue's Student Access, Transition and Success. The group's Student Veteran Charity Golf Scramble raised almost $3,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project in August.

During opening remarks, MFRI Director Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth emphasized that all SVOs in attendance earned their way there through exemplary work.

"There's a reason why you have been chosen to participate today," she said. "By providing important avenues of connection and support, you are crucial to your peers' success, and you are also helping to educate your faculty and administrators about how much student service members and veterans bring to Indiana campuses. Thank you for making a difference on your campuses, in your communities, and beyond."

The Military Family Research Institute is a research and outreach organization based at Purdue and is supported by Lilly Endowment Inc., the Department of Defense, and others. Its post-secondary education initiative, Operation Diploma, was created in 2008 thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. Since then, 80 percent of two- and four-year schools have connected with MFRI for various resources to support student service members and veterans. Almost half have been engaged in trainings that focused on the unique needs of military students. Grants for student veteran organization competitions began in 2009, and through them MFRI has awarded more than $60,000 throughout the state. The number of Indiana student veteran organizations has grown by more than 300 percent.

Writer: Jeanne Norberg, 765-494-2084; jnorberg@purdue.edu

Sources: Stacie Hitt, 765-494-9878

Mike Marn, Military Family Research Institute communications director, 765-496-6027