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Military Family Research Institute awards $9,400 to student veteran orgs

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -– The Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University awarded more than $9,400 to six Indiana student veterans’ organizations, including one that replicated a football rivalry event that raised more than $2,700 for a veterans’ charity.

The grants ranged from $685 to $2,000 and were awarded through MFRI’s Operation Diploma. Funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., Operation Diploma supports student veterans’ organizations at Indiana’s higher education institutions. The student veterans’ organizations offer social support to members and encourage them to become involved in campus and community initiatives, collaborations and service projects.

“These organizations provide a sense of community and can help educate their members about the spectrum of services available to them, including financial aid, academic advising and student services,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, professor of child development and family studies at Purdue and director of MFRI.

A panel of industry, academic and peer judges evaluated proposals from across the state according to criteria that included quality of mission, clarity of initiatives and renewed sustainability. The panel included Samuel Alameda, president of the student veterans’ organization at Indiana University South Bend; Don MacKay, director of business integration at Sears Holdings Management Corp.; Gary Steinhardt, Purdue professor of agronomy; and Gary Tyler, director of the Indiana office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The panel awarded three top honors:

  • First place: Purdue University
  • Second place: Ivy Tech-Sellersburg
  • Third place: University of Evansville
  • Also receiving grants were organizations at Purdue University Calumet; Grace College and Theological Seminary; and the combined organization serving Purdue College of Technology Columbus, Ivy Tech Columbus and Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.

    “When fully implemented, these proposals have the potential to make a difference in the lives of student service members and veterans,” said Stacie Hitt, director of Operation Diploma. “We were pleased to see the dedication and hard work that went into crafting each organizational plan.”

    The student veterans’ organization at Purdue proposes a series of initiatives to meet its dual goals of strong support for student veterans and increased membership. Events include student veteran orientations, career fairs and targeted advertising efforts.

    Plans also include its second annual Oaken Bucket Game Ball Run. This event features their members and ROTC plus those from rival Indiana University running the football 115 miles between the schools’ stadiums and delivering the game ball in time for kick off. The also carry a flag bearing the names of Hoosier veterans who have given their lives in service. Runners collect sponsor pledges, which last year totaled more than $2,700 for Operation Bedding, a charitable organization that provides pillows, sheets, socks and other necessities for service members overseas.

    To earn second place, the recently formed student veterans’ organization at Ivy Tech-Sellersburg unveiled an agenda of activities designed to help student veterans and service members on campus succeed and thrive academically by enlisting the help of faculty and administrators. A start-up organization, it took advantage of lessons learned by consulting with the successful organization at nearby Indiana University Southeast to craft its proposal.

    The third-place proposal from the University of Evansville’s organization outlined several efforts to ease the transition to college for veterans and service members, including new student receptions and adult-learner workshops to aid in the transition. It also included several events designed to enhance campus and community collaboration.

    McKay, who has judged the competition before, was pleased to see the commitment of all teams presenting.

    “You certainly feel the desire and passion to get their groups and the service members on their campuses to be successful,” McKay said.

    Tyler noted the value of the competition itself to the student service members and veterans involved.

    “This is an excellent opportunity for these students to strengthen their strategic and presentation skills and prepare themselves for sustained growth and success in their livelihoods,” Tyler said. “They need to take full advantage of it.”

    Operation Diploma works to engage and educate higher education stakeholders on the issues surrounding student service members and veterans, and, in collaboration with the American Council on Education and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, works to improve the accuracy and efficiency of military credit transfer evaluations through the state’s Core Transfer Library. Hitt represented MFRI in September at a policy conference on community colleges held at the White House, where she discussed the unique needs and strengths of student service members and veterans.

    MFRI has awarded nearly $1.4 million through its Operation Diploma initiative. The total includes more than $39,000 awarded to student veterans organizations.

    The program is making a difference, Hitt said, pointing to a 300 percent increase in the number of Indiana student veteran organizations between 2009 and 2010.

    “Nearly two years into the Operation Diploma initiative, we are seeing measureable change in the quantity and quality of campus supports for military students, which are directly attributable to the commitment of the Indiana higher education community,” Hitt said. “What we did not expect was the level of interest and support we’ve received from state and national agencies. We are really encouraged by these efforts.”

    The Military Family Research Institute, which created Operation Diploma, is a research and outreach organization based at Purdue University and supported by Lilly Endowment Inc., the Department of Defense and others.

    To view top presentations by student veterans’ organizations, visit the MFRI website at http://www.mfri.purdue.edu and click on the “Operation Diploma” tab.

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