Military veterans at Webster University have a place to find help and support. The Student Veterans Organization (SVO) officially started at the end of the 2013 spring semester. One of the club’s goals is to help veterans’ transition into college a little easier.
SVO President Charlie Mach said when he first applied for the 2012 fall semester at Webster, he quickly realized a veteran’s organization did not exist on campus.
“I was in the Marine Corps for seven years and didn’t know anything about going to college,” Mach said.
Associate Vice President for Military and Governmental Programs Brig. Gen. Mike Callen, said a student military organization was started at Webster in the 1940s. However, information on how long the older organization lasted or when it became inactive is unknown.
SVO’s first and former president, Jane McKibbons, worked with Callen to form the SVO, but he has since graduated. When Mach started at Webster and learned there was an attempt underway to start the organization, he quickly jumped on board. Callen is the club’s campus advisor, and he said it is up to Mach and his team where the SVO goes from here.
“I think it is beneficial to have an organization set-up, ran and planned by students,” Callen said. “… An organization to which veterans will have a place to call home culturally.”
According to Callen, there are almost 7,000 veterans attending Webster as a whole, but he said the majority of them attend other campuses.
Currently, the SVO has 20 members and meet once a month. At the moment the SVO works with veterans attending the St. Louis campus, but they have long-term goals of reaching out to help all veterans attending any Webster location. Callen is not aware of any other operating SVO’s at Webster’s extended campuses.
Mach said, “Now that I’m a student I want to help other veterans that want to attend [Webster]. I want to help make the process a lot easier.”
Mach is pursuing an international relations degree and hopes to work in regional security for the U.S. Department of State. He served two tours in Iraq and part of that time he was a Marine security guard stationed at U.S. Embassies.
Mach said that transitioning out of the military and into college can be a “big thing.” Veterans come out of the military with discipline, time management and leadership skills. However, stepping into a different environment, with expectations to pick up where they left off before the military, can be difficult. The SVO provides an outlet to talk to someone who might have been through the same experiences and have had the same feelings.
Army Paratrooper Veteran Cristian Santana served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He considered attendance at several different colleges in the area. After meeting Mach, he decided Webster would be a good fit. The flexible schedule at Webster is one aspect that helped him decide. He said he did not have much knowledge about college, but Mach helped answer his questions, including ones about veteran’s benefits.
“I recommend the [SVO] to all military veterans. It would help clarify all the questions they might have,” Santana said. “Nobody can really help you with your military benefits unless they know it or have been through it themselves.”
Santana said he considers himself a “workaholic” and plans to take 23 credit hours next semester. He is working towards a biological science degree with emphasis on health and medicine. He expects to receive his BA in less than four years and continue to medical school and become an anesthesiologist.
According to Mach, the SVO recently became an official chapter in the Student Veterans of America (SVA). He said it was a positive move because the SVA supports chapters by providing valuable resources.
A few things the SVA offer to their member chapters include: leadership training, grants, networking opportunities, advocating for supportive campus services and developing partnerships with organizations to provide scholarships, mentorships and employment opportunities, according to the SVA website.
The Webster SVO held their first event on campus in October. A pig roast was organized to help promote awareness about the SVO and was open to anyone on campus. They fed around 130 people and all leftovers were taken downtown to help feed the homeless.
Mach said participating in the SVO is not limited to only those who are military veterans. Any student can join the SVO and be a valuable member. A non-veteran can help with events, attend meetings and give ideas that could benefit the organization or help newer students find their way around campus and experience college.
Santana said the SVO is a great place for someone who may not be a veteran themselves but have questions about the military or want to meet veterans.
“When you put a lot of veterans together, there is a lot of experience, hard times, different skills and abilities,” Santana said. “People can always learn from that. That is what I find myself doing.”
For more information, email SVO President Charlie Mach at SVO@webster.edu or Charliemach@webster.edu. To find meeting dates and times visit facebook.com/webstersSVO.