What started out with a simple request at a meeting in the President’s office last year is now a “vision come true” for student veterans, as Jacksonville University dedicated its Defenders' Den Student Veterans of America study center on Tuesday, March 25.
“This speaks a lot of JU and how much it is putting into its veterans,” said JU SVA Chapter President Danielle D’Amato, herself a Navy veteran and graduate student. “JU is setting up its veterans to succeed in school and then in the working world. We are becoming a pillar example for other colleges.”
The new 1,000-square-foot space, centrally located on campus in the Founders Building, is designed especially for student veterans, who at about 400 make up 10 percent of JU’s student body and are the University’s second-largest affinity group behind athletes. Part of the space is a computer lab and study area, and part is a gathering spot and lounge in which to relax, complete with flat-screen TV, refrigerator, microwave and comfortable chairs.
Former JU Trustee and area Taco Bell franchise Chief Operating Officer Thaddeus Foster was instrumental in funding the center, which represents an investment of tens of thousands of dollars. He plays a prominent role on the board of the Armed Forces Families Foundation, a major donor toward the facility.
“At JU we are trying to innovate, and find more creative ways to enrich all of our students’ lives, including our veterans,” JU President Tim Cost told about 200 people gathered at the dedication ceremony. “We are signing agreements, creating scholarships and creating physical spaces for them.”
In the case of the Defenders' Den, D’Amato and other JU student veterans met with Cost in his office last year and responded to his overtures for ideas by suggesting a special gathering spot be found for them.
“They wished they had their own place,” Cost said. “They have their own challenges, many have kids, many are older, and some were looking for a place to study and relax.”
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a two-time JU graduate, said the new center is a testament to the way Cost and JU are embracing student veterans.
“It’s a reaffirmation and confirmation that with President Cost’s leadership, veterans will continue to be successful not only at JU, but when they leave JU,” Brown said. “He is investing in our leaders.”
Dr. Donnie Horner, JU’s chief government and community affairs officer, ticked off some of the ways in which JU is working toward becoming the “most military-friendly campus in the United States”:
• In February, it became the first higher education institution in the U.S. to partner with the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation in awarding scholarships to students whose veteran parents died in the line of duty. JU is providing a 40 percent undergraduate tuition reduction per academic year for children of deceased veterans who meet JU’s admissions requirements and have been accepted for enrollment. Horner noted that UCLA and the University of Washington have both contacted JU for information on possibly duplicating the program on their campuses.
• JU offers a 100 percent Yellow Ribbon tuition match for most degree programs.
• The JU NROTC program is one of the largest in America, with more than 1,500 sailors and Marines having gone through the program.
• JU’s College of Health Sciences recently became one of only nine programs nationwide awarded funding – $870,000 – to implement a veterans’ bachelors of science in nursing program, helping wounded and returning veterans excel as they pursue careers in health care.
• The JU chapter of Student Veterans of America recently received two awards: it was recognized by SVA headquarters in Washington, D.C., as a “model chapter” with a $1,500 cash award. In addition, VFW District 6 cited JU’s SVA for “outstanding efforts for student veterans, including advocacy, outreach, and volunteerism.”
Rear Admiral Victor G. “Vic” Guillory (U.S. Navy Ret), Director of Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services for the City of Jacksonville, applauded JU’s “huge step” in its efforts at being student veteran-friendly, and he urged all the veterans on campus to take advantage of their new center.
“Breathe life into the Defender’s Den, make it a pertinent place on campus, and leave it even better than when you found it,” he said.
First Sergeant Doug Buck (U.S. Air Force Ret), now a graduate student in the JU School of Education, told audience members that veterans want nothing more than to be stimulated and challenged, especially in the workforce.
“JU has been very welcoming to me, despite my age, and it has addressed both of those needs: it has provided a stimulating educational environment – and, it has hired me for the challenging job of supervisor at the soon-to-be opened River House,” he said. “I am very proud to be here today.”More information: Phillip Milano, JU Director of News and Publications, (904) 256-7042, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jacksonville University
Jacksonville University works to prepare each of its more than 4,000 students for lifelong success in learning, achieving, leading and serving. Its nearly 200-acre riverfront campus is just minutes from downtown Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean. It has been named one of “America’s Best Colleges” for 10 straight years, and ranks in the top 1% among all Florida colleges for Return on Investment for its graduates. With a 12 to 1 student-faculty ratio and full-time faculty percentage of 80 percent, it offers small class sizes, inviting campus grounds and engaged faculty and staff in a setting that promotes community, ambition and responsibility. JU has nearly 190 full-time faculty and offers more than 70 majors, programs and concentrations. Additionally, it offers graduate degrees in business, choreography, education leadership, marine science, mathematics, nursing and orthodontics. JU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).