Friday, April 20, 2018
Stephen Ross spends a lot of time trying to create a supportive community for military veterans. He recently landed on an idea to create and distribute lapel pins to Virginia Commonwealth University faculty and staff who have served in the armed forces.
The 1.25-inch pins feature a linear VCU logo atop the emblem for each of the five U.S. military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
They look sharp, Ross said. But there’s a problem: He doesn’t know how many pins to order, or who to send them to, because he doesn’t know all the veterans working at VCU.
“I got a list the last two years for Veterans Day of about 270 people — I said there’s no way,” Ross said. “Ten percent of Virginia’s population is veteran. That's the highest in the country. There are 20,000 employees at VCU. When I looked at the list, my name wasn't even on it.”
Ross, an Air Force veteran and the director of Military Student Services, had a data problem. Now he’s working to fix it. He and VCU Human Resources are encouraging faculty and staff military veterans to self-identify by filling out an online form. The goal is to better define VCU’s military veteran population, said Sheila Baker, senior HR consultant in VCU Human Resources.
“There will be a form they can complete and it will include each branch,” said Baker, who has been VCU’s liaison to the Virginia Values Veterans program since 2014 and helps recruit veterans to work at the university.
Ross would then provide the employee with the appropriate pin. He suspects there are likely between 1,000 and 2,000 veterans working on campus. In addition to the military branches, Military Student Services will create a sixth pin for employees who have completed training for Green Zone, a VCU program that helps military students navigate college.
The lapel pins, Baker said, are a way to acknowledge an employee’s military service and better connect veterans on campus. The pins could also help recruit employees and students to VCU, she said, with veterans wearing them to university events.
The pins also serve as a visual to the more than 1,700 VCU students who are military affiliated, Ross said.
“What we're hoping is that people will wear the pins and help raise awareness for students that are military affiliated [so they can] get to know the faculty and staff that share those common bonds,” he said. “We want to improve the ability for a veteran to reach out to someone that may have been where they are. We’re trying to develop a sense of family among veterans.”
Lucian Friel sees that potential. He served in the Marine Corps from 2003-07 and graduated in December with a degree in mass communications from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
“If I were to walk into a classroom and see somebody wearing that Marine lapel pin, it's an instant connection,” said Friel, who currently works at the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.
“I think regardless of what branch you served in, connecting with someone who also served puts you at ease, especially if you are in your first few semesters [of school],” Friel said. “It tells you that your professor knows what you are going through in this transition.”
Ross first thought of the lapel pins after hearing of a similar program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He sees this project as a natural extension of his office’s role processing GI Bill benefits and supporting veterans on campus.
“A student that might not ever start up a conversation with a professor now has a reason to say, ‘Oh sir, ma'am, you were in the Navy? When did you serve? I just got out,’” Ross said. “A pin like this lets students know that person served and might be able to help.”