By Sherry DiBari

Senior Krista Brant and Junior Katherine Martinez, who started at Old Dominion University this fall, were among 48 students selected nationwide for G.I. Jobs 2020 Inaugural Student Veteran Leadership Awards.

The magazine announced the winners in its August issue, noting that those selected "excelled in their academics and made meaningful contributions to their school, fellow student veterans and the community."

Brant, a Navy veteran, reservist, military spouse and mother, is well known around the ODU Military Connection Center (MCC). She held a Veterans Administration (VA) work-study position there for two years and in January was hired as an administrative assistant.

After serving 11 years as a Naval nuclear electronic technician, Brant felt she needed to make a change.

"I experienced a lot of things that nobody should ever have to experience," she said. "There was a lot of sexism, a lot of harassment."

She decided to separate from the Navy and transition to the Naval Reserves.

"I wanted to still find a way to continue my service and potentially retire from the military, but in a slightly lesser capacity," Brant said. "Being in the military still means a lot to me, it's part of my identity at this point."

Brant, stationed in Norfolk at the time, enrolled at ODU and made a point of finding every resource the campus had to offer.

"Luckily, that included finding the Military Connection Center," Brant said, noting that the MCC provided information and guidance. "Since I'm a first-generation student, I didn't even know a lot of the basic things about applying to college."

Brant has been active on campus with military and non-military organizations.

She volunteered with Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE) and eventually became a team leader. PAVE connects incoming veterans with student veterans trained as peer advisors.

"We really want to ensure that our veterans on campus are comfortable with navigating school, because it is different," Brant said. "You're going from a very structured military environment to a very unstructured college environment. That transition can be challenging for lots of reasons."

Brant also served as vice president of ODU's Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter for a year and a half. With the SVA, she lobbied in Washington, D.C., for legislative changes to help student veterans and the military community.

"Getting connected with the Military Connection Center and Student Veterans of America on campus was a really big thing for me," Brant said. "It gave me that sense of community that I was missing when I left the military."

Brant also started ODU chapters of the SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society, which recognizes military individuals' academic achievements, and the Tri-Alpha National Honor Society, which is specifically for first-generation students.

"Any population of students that has a challenge in college needs to be recognized whenever they're incredibly successful," Brant said.

Brant, majoring in occupational and technical studies with a training specialist concentration, is also double minoring in women's studies and sociology with the addition of a diversity certificate.

"I want to work at an organization where they value diversity, and they want all of their employees to belong there," Brant said.

Martinez is just getting started at ODU.

She was a student at Tidewater Community College when she was nominated for the award. She has since graduated and is double majoring at ODU in sociology and criminal justice.

Martinez, a California native, joined the Navy in 2015 and was stationed in Norfolk, serving as a petty officer second class on the USS Winston Churchill.

At TCC, Martinez joined the Student Veterans of America chapter and ended up serving as president.

"I've always loved helping people and knowing what resources were available for active-duty service members," Martinez said. "So, I wanted to keep doing that by joining a veteran organization that could allow me to further help other people."

Community service is an important part of Martinez's life.

"I can only assume that everyone at one point has wanted to do something or wanted to help someone but didn't know how," she said.

For the past three years, she helped to organize and lead the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Walk for Virginia Beach.

Martinez, who lost a mentor, Senior Chief Petty Officer Sue Eisinger, to suicide, also serves as a counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

"I took it to heart to get educated to know what resources are available," Martinez said. "And it's important for me to let everyone know that they're not alone, and it's OK to reach out for help."

Martinez will continue her service at ODU, serving as a community outreach officer for ODU's SVA chapter.

Martinez chose ODU because she felt that it offered a good support system for veterans, especially with navigating military benefits and paperwork.

"Being able to go to a school that knew what to do with me, essentially gave me a lot of confidence to want to come to ODU," she said.

Martinez hopes to work as a criminal data analyst for the federal government.

"I want to understand why people do the things that they do, but also use that information to create community programs that will minimize the risk of crime occurring in communities," she said.

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