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A Decade of Impact Powered by Campus Collaborations

Higher education's first interdisciplinary academic institute, focused on military veterans and their families, has provided opportunities for impactful scholarship.

Image of the new Veterans Center

Syracuse University’s National Veterans Resource Center at the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building is home to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

In 2011, the College of Professional Studies welcomed the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) as a resident department on the third floor of 700 University Avenue operating its first program—the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans—on the campus for its first class of 17 disabled veterans. Since then, IVMF has advocated for military families with actionable research insights, analyzed policies and veteran programs to streamline delivery of support, and worked with communities and nonprofits across the nation. The IVMF’s research, training programs and advocacy have impacted over 150,000 military families over the past ten years and have grown from their University Avenue start to their newest home in the National Veterans Resource Center at the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building. A recent $30 million gift from U.S. Navy veteran and Life Trustee Daniel D’Aniello ’68, H’20 and his wife, Gayle, will secure the future and long-term success of the IVMF.

While service members, veterans, military spouses and partner organizations have benefited coast to coast, another major advantage of IVMF’s mission and values on campus are rich student experiences. “Collaboration is a perfect example of why we do what we do at Syracuse University, of being able to leverage the best of what is on this campus,” says managing director for research and data at Syracuse University’s IVMF, Nick Armstrong. “Our team has been able to tap into the incredible talent here, faculty and particularly students.”

Four ongoing collaborations, with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the College of Professional Studies, the School of Information Studies (iSchool), and the College of Visual and Performing Arts are improving the outcomes for service members, veterans and their families while being a vehicle for scholarship and campus community engagement.

Encouraging Public Service and Political Engagement

Image of Nick Armstrong in the Veteran's Center

Nick Armstrong G’08, G’14 serves as managing director for research and data at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Based on IVMF’s research, veterans are already motivated to serve their nation, says Armstrong. When transitioning into civilian life, that motivation to be of service to their community continues. Giving veterans and military spouses the tools to pursue an elected position or civic engagement could also help improve the country’s political discourse. “From the research we've conducted, when veterans transition into civilian life, that motivation continues for many,” Armstrong says. “We also know that historically veterans in elected office tend to behave more bipartisan. They work across the aisle.”

The Veterans Program for Politics and Civic Engagement (VPPCE) funded by IVMF foundational partner JPMorgan Chase is an intensive and nonpartisan training program for veterans and military spouses. “The curriculum is tailored to help participants explore careers in politics, prepare to run a campaign, and ultimately succeed,” says Maxwell School professor Steve Lux, a VPPCE instructor and director of executive education.

The VPPCE team focuses on the transformation that occurs when someone leaves the military as an opportunity. Lux says that veterans’ interest in a purposeful career makes VPPCE an attractive option. “I think public service is in the blood of military folks at one level or another. Veterans getting into politics is often a natural progression.”

The beauty of the IVMF and Maxwell School partnership is that we collectively have these incredible networks of both veterans and political types.

—Professor Steve Lux

Lux says the curriculum is grounded in the practical skills and tactics to get elected. “The beauty of the IVMF and Maxwell School partnership is that we collectively have these incredible networks of both veterans and political types,” Lux says. He adds that while they address the very generic question about how to run a campaign, VPPCE also brings in different political scientists who can identify the six different elements of a campaign these veterans really have to pay attention to. The VPPCE also brings in people who have run successful campaigns themselves, such as City of Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, or Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon for real-life practical instruction. “We’re not just dealing with it from a theoretical point of view,” he says.

Faculty members have also benefited from participation in this collaboration. Lux says an adult education enterprise contributes greatly to the institution in terms of perspectives, context and improved teaching. “We're a much better teacher about the subject today than we were three years ago.”

Business Case for Veterans in Higher Education

Image of The National Veterans Resource Center

The National Veterans Resource Center serves as the center of veteran life on campus and across the region, housing the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Office of Veteran Success, Veteran Career Services, and Army and Air Force ROTC.

In 2018, the College of Professional Studies designed its project management certificate as a credit-bearing transfer credential for students completing the IVMF Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® and Project Manager Professional (PMP) prep programs. Active-duty service members can improve their ability to get promoted by pursuing a college degree.

Armstrong says having service members and veterans in class makes Syracuse University better as an institution of higher education, with past IVMF research illustrating how veterans fare from an academic success perspective—they perform as well or better than other adult learners.

“IVMF’s business case for students in higher education looked at a range of different data sources on how student veterans have done historically,” Armstrong says. “Whether it comes to attainment completion, grade point average or the life experience and leadership they bring to a classroom, student veterans bring added value to the University and the overall learning experience for everyone on campus.”

Dean of the School of Professional Studies and Air Force Veteran, Mike Frasciello says the college has an institution-wide commitment to online education and operates in close coordination and cooperation with the Syracuse University’s schools, college and business units. “And this is where we excel—in our leadership, determination and willingness to educate stakeholders and advocate for excellence in online education.”

Student veterans bring added value to the University and the overall learning experience for everyone on campus.

—Nick Armstrong G’08, G’14, managing director for research and data, Institute for Veterans and Military Families

Active-duty service members can attend College of Professional Studies online undergraduate degree programs at the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance rate, which eliminates much of the out-of-pocket costs associated with pursuing a Syracuse University degree. In addition, Syracuse University waives application fees for veterans and service members, and admissions, registration and transfer of credit are processed by a dedicated team that works specifically with military-connected students.

“Our excellence in the area of nontraditional and online student support begins with our recognition that online education cannot be reduced to a transactional relationship with students—that we should continually seek to impart a memorable, impactful, individualized and holistic educational experience,” Frasciello says.

IVMF Digital Resource Library Creation Brings Departments Together

Photo of Gigi Swinnerton

Grace “Gigi” Swinnerton G’21 was appointed as Syracuse University Libraries’ new visiting librarian for the Digital Library Program and Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

The IVMF, the Syracuse University Libraries, and the iSchool came together to build a digital library to serve veterans and their families. “The IVMF Digital Resource Library will not only benefit veterans and their families directly, but it will be a resource to the many stakeholders who serve this population such as employers or nonprofit service providers, philanthropist groups, and government and policy makers—all those audiences have different needs for data and insights,” Armstrong says.

As the IVMF collection of publications grew to the hundreds and partners started to request collections of curated materials, the IVMF knew their website was not sufficient and the solution would require a team. The Syracuse University Libraries Digital Library Program, led by Deirdre Joyce, partnered with iSchool library and information science master’s students and an iSchool adjunct professor, Chad Harper, to design a solution with the IVMF.

Collaboration is a perfect example of why we do what we do at Syracuse University, of being able to leverage the best of what is on this campus.

—Nick Armstrong G’08, G’14, managing director for research and data, Institute for Veterans and Military Families

Since February 2020, over a dozen students have worked on or performed their internships on this project. Given staffing constraints, it was the student team, led by Grace “Gigi” Swinnerton with guidance from Joyce and her team, that built the metadata application profile and process for curation. “The metadata is what makes up the backend behind an article and is what allows the article to be ‘found’ when it is searched,” Swinnerton explains.

The IVMF and the Libraries quickly realized the value an IVMF librarian would have, and together they were able to fund a staff position that will serve as a pilot program for a shared librarian residency. Upon graduation from the iSchool library and information science graduate program in May 2020, Swinnerton began to serve in this position. In addition to the continued partnership with the libraries, Harper continues to design and develop the backend database with student support.

“There is no way this project could have been successful without the commitment and collaboration from our partners across campus—the Libraries and the iSchool,” Armstrong says.

Bridging the Divide Through Art

Image of the art gallery located in the bottom of the new Veteran's building

An art gallery on the bottom level of the National Veterans Resource Center features artwork that helps veterans work through emotions that come from transitioning from military life.

On the bottom level of the NVRC, an art gallery features work that helps bridge the civilian and veteran divide.

College of Visual and Performing Arts professor Jen DeLucia worked with 10 veteran co-researchers on her dissertation. The group defined seven principles of therapeutic art therapy, like offering “psychological safety,” such as exploring things in their artwork that maybe they weren't ready to, or able to, at that point put words to those experiences. There were things that happened in their art process, or in working with the metaphors in their artwork, that helped them work through their complex emotions. “Then we looked at their experiences in an art therapy program and how the certain aspects of the program met their transition needs,” DeLucia says. “They talked a lot about how art therapy cultivated a sense of purpose. I think the activity of making things, the act of creation, is an act of hope.”

Image of Professor Jen DeLucia and master's student Frankie Bartolomie

Professor Jen DeLucia and art therapy master’s student Frankie Bartolomie share artwork displayed in the IVMF Gallery, where programming is informed by art therapy theory and practice.

Along with the benefits of featuring artwork that helps veterans work through emotions that come from transition, the gallery also gives students opportunities. “We were able to partner with our museum studies program and use the gallery as a lab space for student experiences,” DeLucia says. “We had one class come in to do what's called condition reporting. That’s when a gallery accepts new artworks, the condition of the artworks is documented in a special way.” DeLucia says this project broadened her understanding alongside her students during this process, which led to a paid student position. “I was learning a lot of professional gallery management skills. It has been a meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership, and as a result we were able to bring on a former museum studies student for a new part-time role in the gallery.”

The significance of these projects is being able to leverage all the intellectual capital, all the insights and data, and being able to translate that to different audiences in a way that both improves the lives of military families and gives students and faculty meaningful experiences Armstrong says. “I think it really helps set us apart.”

Brandon Dyer

This story was published on .


Also of Interest

  • Institute for Veterans and Military Families

    The IVMF at Syracuse University is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the post-service lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families to serve those who have served.

  • College of Professional Studies

    The College of Professional Studies aspires to be a global inclusive student-centric college, delivering Syracuse University academic programs and professional development opportunities to diverse part-time student populations.