The Old Dominion University Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter was a finalist for the 2019 Chapter of the Year. Out of 1,500 SVA on-campus chapters, only five were selected for the honor.
"When I found out that Old Dominion University was a finalist. I'll be honest, I was in shock. I just sat in my car for like 10 minutes, fighting back tears, just trying to take in everything," said Justin Fulp, ODU chapter president. "All of the hard work and long hours for my SVA chapter on top of being active duty (Navy) and being a full-time student had paid off."
The award recognizes chapters that provide peer support, collaboration and advocacy that veterans need for success"through and beyond higher education." A special focus is on groups that empower members by "creating positive change on campus and within the local, regional or national community."
Finalists included Colorado State, Washington-Tacoma, CUNY Medgar Evers College and Northeastern. Colorado State took the Chapter of the Year award.
The award coincided with the annual SVA national conference, the largest gathering of student veterans in the country. Fourteen members of ODU's SVA board traveled to Los Angeles for the event.
In his welcoming remarks, SVA President Jared Lyon, pointed out ODU's focus on inclusiveness.
"Taking a full course load, maintaining involvement on campus and working a full- or part-time job can be a lot," he said "Add to that, over 50% of student veterans have children when they go back to school and it's easy to understand where an inclusive community can make a big difference. This is the true strength of an SVA chapter. At Old Dominion University, they are focused on creating an inclusive community for all student veterans, families and allies."
"We weren't expecting that much of a shout-out," Fulp said.
He wasn't surprised about the focus though. "This (inclusivity) aligns directly with President Broderick's vision," he said.
In its application, the chapter highlighted a few of its many campus and community events. This included the inaugural ODU Military Ball, which was free for student veterans and military affiliates. The event raised $1,300 for Mutts with a Mission, a nonprofit that helps pair service dogs with veterans and wounded warriors.
Campus events included a student and faculty discussion on service-animal awareness. The chapter also co-hosted events on mental health, diversity, military bias and the importance of local voting.
At the national conference, the ODU team was among 2,000 student veterans representing on-campus chapters in 50 states and four countries.
The conference focused on both professional development and SVA chapter development. ODU students attended breakout sessions on veterans advocacy and diversity, scholarships, federal employment, veteran well-being, campus engagement and professional development.
Kim Bullington Sibson, ODU's SVA chapter advisor, led a session called "Bicker, Moan, Take Out a Loan: Financial Survival Skills for Graduate Student Veterans." Fulp was on a panel for student leader best practices.
ODU has about 1,400 student veterans and 5,600 military affiliates. The ODU chapter has 250 members and is one of the largest organizations on campus. They work closely with the Military Connection Center and PAVE (Peer Advisors for Veterans Education). The chapter does not charge dues.
"Our interest is advocacy," Fulp said. "We do have a lot of social events and we promote camaraderie, but the most important thing is to be able to utilize academic success in and out of the classroom."
Learn more about ODU's Student Veterans of America chapter on its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ODUSVA/) or visit the office in Monarch Hall, Room 1108.