Transition Help Without The DoD PowerPoint Slides

Soldiers line up to check in for the CivilianJobs.com job fair sponsored by the Fort Campbell, Ky., Army Career and Alumni Program office. Hundreds of transitioning service members, veterans, and their family members took part in the event.

My thanks to Barrett Bogue, Student Veterans of America vice president of Public Relations and Digital Engagement, for passing along a new website focused on transitioning service members.

While the issues covered in Rebootcamp may sound similar to the TAP classes you sat through, don’t worry – there’s no “death by PowerPoint” here. The site includes edutainment videos, informative how-tos, custom tools, and inspirational stories about veterans.

Education, employment and entrepreneurship are the cornerstones of the new site, Rebootcamp, produced by the Military Times. The strength of the website; the many partners that contribute.

A huge chunk — maybe even a majority — of the information, advice and other content that you’ll see comes from more than a dozen partners, spanning veterans service organizations, government agencies and the private sector.

A few of the recommended articles:

Another resource to check out, Project Transition USA, a non-profit organization that shows service members how to use LinkedIn to help transitioning military find meaningful careers in the civilian world.

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Online Survey For Women Veterans To Make A Difference

Kiersten Downs "takes the wheel."

Kiersten Downs “takes the wheel” as she prepared for her cross-country cycling ride to raise awareness of student veterans and money for the Student Veterans of America.

Women are the fastest growing group within the veteran population according to the Veterans Health Administration. Yet female vets may not identify themselves as a veteran or use their VA benefits.

Why women vets avoid mentioning their military service is one of several questions being explored by University of South Florida doctoral student Kiersten Downs.

Her dissertation, “Women Veterans and Re-Entry after Military Service- A Research Study,” will include information from an anonymous, online survey of women veterans from all eras. She’ll also interview both female and male veterans and community stakeholders.

“Probably one of the biggest hurdles is just finding people to participate,” Downs said. “But I think the message I want to communicate to my fellow veterans is that in order for legislators and people in Washington DC to make policies that are going to serve us as military and veterans, they need to understand us.”

After eight years in the Air Force and Air National Guard and as the former president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association, Downs knows there’s a lot to learn about the changing world of women veterans

Bringing the veterans’ experiences to elected officials and policy makers is the mission of her dissertation research.

“My overall goal is to really advocate for our population for greater representation in Washington DC and also at the state and local levels and to use the experiences that I’m gathering from other women veterans to ultimately change policy so that it serves us and our population,” Downs said.

Women veterans are invited to take the online survey. There’s also an opportunity to volunteer for an additional phone interview. She will also maintain, a blog, a Facebook page on her women veterans re-entry dissertation and has a Twitter handle, @WmnVetsResearch..

If Downs sounds like a familiar voice, she also served as the community outreach coordinator for WUSF’s Veterans Coming Home project in 2014. She is the former president of the USF Student Veterans Association and the summer of 2013 she cycled across the United States to raise awareness of student veterans. Her ride also raised more than $50,000 in donations for the national Student Veterans of America.

New Study Debunks 88 Percent Dropout Rate for Vets

D. Wayne Robinson, president of the Student Veterans of America, announces results from the Million Records Project at a news conference broadcast over the internet from George Washington University on March 24, 2014.

D. Wayne Robinson, president of the Student Veterans of America, announces results from the Million Records Project at a news conference broadcast over the internet from George Washington University on March 24, 2014.

Student veterans using their GI education benefits between 2002 and 2010 graduated from colleges and universities at the rate of 51.7 percent according to researchers with the Million Records Project.

That graduation rate is in stark contrast to the erroneous 88 percent dropout rate among student veterans that two national news organizations reported in 2012 using flawed data.

But ever since those erroneous reports by NBC News and the Huffington Post, the Student Veterans of America (SVA) organization has been fighting the misconception that student vets are at high risk of dropping out.

So the SVA teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse to start the Million Records Project with the goal of developing accurate data on student veteran graduation rates.

Researchers collected information from the VA on nearly 1 million student veterans and paired it with data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The data was scrubbed of any identifying information and then turned over to the SVA.

The Student Veterans of America President D. Wayne Robinson announced the project’s initial findings Monday.

“Fifty-one-point-seven percent of today’s veterans are completing their programs of study and we’re confident that this number will continue to grow as time passes and Post 9-11 GI Bill users have the opportunity to earn their degrees,” Robinson said. “I am very proud to report this number.”

He said the graduation percentage is similar to the general population which he finds remarkable considering the additional challenges that student vets have to handle.

In addition to worrying about academics, 47 percent of student veterans have families and many hold fulltime jobs. Additionally, many Reservists and National Guard members may have their academic year interrupted by a deployment overseas.

Robinson pointed to the example of Kiersten Downs, now a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, who served four years in the Air Force and then joined the Air National Guard while attending college in New York.

“While pursuing her political science degree at Binghamton University in New York, Kiersten’s unit was mobilized just three weeks before finals,” Robinson said. “And so, she was forced to put her education on hold to deploy.”

The Million Records Project is not over, instead, this was just the first of several reports. Future research hopes to look at specific programs and their success at helping student veterans reintegrate and excel  in higher education.

Student Veteran Recognized for Cross-Country Ride

August 5, following a cross-country cycling tradition, Kiersten Downs dips her front tire into the reflecting pool on the Washington DC mall at the end of her journey. Her journey started June 2 with a dip of her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Biking USA

August 5, following a cross-country cycling tradition, Kiersten Downs dips her front tire into the reflecting pool on the Washington DC mall at the end of her journey. Her journey started June 2 with a dip of her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Biking USA

An Air Force veteran and anthropology doctoral student who spent her summer Biking across America was named Student Veteran of the Year by the Student Veterans of America organization at its annual conference in Scottsdale, AZ on Saturday evening.

The National SVA recognized University of South Florida student veteran Kiersten Downs, a former president of the USF Student Veterans Association, for her cross-country trip that raised $50,000 for the organization as well as raising awareness of student veterans’ challenges and successes in higher education.

The current USF SVA President Ray Mollison accepting the award for Downs who was unable to attend the ceremony.

USF SVA President Ray Mollison (right) accepting the Student Veteran of the Year award for Kiersten Downs.

USF SVA President Ray Mollison (right) accepting the Student Veteran of the Year award for Kiersten Downs.

Student Veteran Calls for Action in Huffington Post Article

kiersten_3800_miles_for_stu_vetsUniversity of South Florida doctoral student and Air Force veteran Kiersten Downs cycled across the United States this summer to raise visibility for student veterans. And even though her wheels stopped turning August 5th when she arrived in Washington D.C., it doesn’t mean her campaign has ended.

Instead, her “Bike America: Student Veterans Ride for Education” is gaining more national attention. Kiersten just wrote a piece for the Huffington Post:

I am devoted to this cause because I see student veteran organizations as vehicles of social change. Public policy is supposed to be influenced by public discourse, and yet veterans themselves are on the sidelines.

We cannot be passive.

A national discussion is unfolding about who we are, what we need to succeed, and how our past experiences shape our futures. But we must never forget: We are the narrators of our own history. If we do not take control over how the story is written, then it will be written for us, and like in so many cases, work against us.

Kiersten’s journey also was chronicled by MTV-U and was covered by various media outlets. You can read her full Huffington Post article, We Are the Narrators of Our Own History, here.

Kiersten Downs celebrating the end of her two-month ride across the USA to raise awareness for student veterans. Photo credit: Biking USA

Kiersten Downs celebrating the end of her two-month ride across the USA to raise awareness for student veterans. Photo credit: Biking USA

Heat, Dogs, Crashes All Part of Student Vet Biking USA

August 5, following a cross-country cycling tradition, Kiersten Downs dips her front tire into the reflecting pool on the Washington DC mall at the end of her journey. Her journey started June 2 with a dip of her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Biking USA

August 5, following a cross-country cycling tradition, Kiersten Downs dips her front tire into the reflecting pool on the Washington DC mall at the end of her journey. Her journey started June 2 with a dip of her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Biking USA

She cycled on average 60 to 70 miles a day for two months. Battled dogs, heat, rain storms, ticks, a few crashes and a gas leak in her support vehicle.

That’s how Air Force veteran and University of South Florida doctoral student Kiersten Downs spent her summer.

Her cross-country trek ended Monday when she dipped her front cycle tire in reflecting pond at the Washington D.C. mall and then rode across a finish line established at the National Veterans Center.

Kiersten Downs prepares to dip her rear wheel into the Pacific - a tradition for cross-country cyclists.

June 2, 2013, Kiersten Downs prepares to dip her rear wheel into the Pacific – a tradition for cross-country cyclists starting their journey.

“I kind of rode through the finish line,” Downs said. “I turned around and the first people I made eye contact with were the students from USF, the Student Veterans Association. We had seven people come down. That was really emotional tears started when we locked eyes. And I just dropped my bike and ran up and gave them a big hug.”

She had no time to shower or change before being ushered into a large hall filled with fellow student veterans, dignitaries and political figures including the mayor of Washington DC.

Downs delighted them with anecdotes from her two-month journey cycling across 10 states and covering almost 3,800 miles.

Kiersten Downs (Left) running with Jorge (center) and another student veteran who joined her in Pueblo, Colorado to ride for a day. Leg cramps forced Jorge off his bike so he ran the rest of the way. Kiersten doubled back to join him the final 100 yards. Credit: Biking USA

Kiersten Downs (Left) running with Jorge (center) and another student veteran who joined her in Pueblo, Colorado to ride for a day. Leg cramps forced Jorge off his bike so he ran the rest of the way. Kiersten doubled back to join him the final 100 yards. Credit: Biking USA

“We stayed in 58 different campsites, Walmart parking lots and VFWs and let me tell you there is nothing more American than that,” said Downs to the applause and laughter from the audience.

Her ride had two goals: raise $50,000 for the non-profit organization, Student Veterans of America, and to raise awareness about the leadership qualities and can-do attitude of student veterans.

That student veteran solidarity was demonstrated throughout her trip. At several locations, student veterans would join her ride for a day.

She recounted that three of the veterans who rode with her from Pueblo, Colorado had little cycling experience, but stuck with her for 52 miles.

kiersten_finishline_usf_vets

Kiersten Downs (center) at the National Veterans Center was greeted by several friends from the USF Student Veterans Association who traveled to Washington DC to help her celebrate the end of her 3,800 mile journey. Credit: Biking USA

In her video log #4, Downs can be seen running back up the road to Jorge as he came into view with the support vehicle behind him so they could run the final 100 yards together.

“I never considered quitting. The thought never even crossed my mind,” Downs said. “Were there times when I was incredibly stressed out and I had to reassess? Absolutely. Did things go wrong? Heck yeah. We had a gas leak, we had a tick infestation that was disgusting. I never want to go through that again. I was injured. I got sick. So, it was incredibly stressful at times.”

Downs said she’s not been on a bicycle since completing her ride August 5, 2013. She estimates it will take her two weeks to recover before she starts rolling again.

Below is a video of Kiersten Downs speech Monday at the National Veterans Center courtesy of USF media relations.

Watch a video-log from Downs that shows the determination of the student veterans who rode with her from Pueblo, Colorado and the auxiliary of the VFW who made them breakfast.

http://youtu.be/rFAnJnMEIHY

USF Student Vet Completes Ride Across USA

Kiersten shows off the nail that flattened her tire the last day of her ride across the USA. Photo credit: Biking_USA

Kiersten shows off the nail that flattened her tire the last day of her ride across the USA. Photo credit: Biking_USA

A flat tire on the last day of her two-month journey did not slow down Kiersten Downs.

The former president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association cycled into Washington DC this afternoon, August 5, 2013.

She started the trek in San Francisco June 2, 2013 by dipping her rear tire in the Pacific Ocean, a tradition by cross-country cyclists.

Her goal was to raise awareness about student veterans and to raise $50,000 for their non-profit organization. She’s accomplished both.

Congratulations to Kiersten. Several of her USF colleagues traveled to DC to celebrate her finish at the SVA headquarters.

She tweeted the photo (@Biking_USA) below to share in her triumph  after cycling some 3,800 miles.

Kiersten Downs celebrating the end of her two-month ride across the USA to raise awareness for student veterans. Photo credit: Biking USA

Kiersten Downs celebrating the end of her two-month ride across the USA to raise awareness for student veterans. Photo credit: Biking USA

The SVA will mark Kiersten’s achievement with a celebration at the National Veterans Center, 2013 H. ST NW, Washington DC, tonight from 6 to 8.

Guests include Kiersten, Vice Admiral (ret.) Mel Williams, Jr., Senior Associate Dean of Military and Veteran Initiatives at George Washington University; Lieutenant General (ret.) Martin R. Steele, Associate Vice President for Veterans Research, Executive Director Military Partnerships, USF Research & Innovation, University of South Florida; Michael Dakduk, Executive Director, Student Veterans of America; Dan Parker, Director of Programs, Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A photo from the start of her journey and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Kiersten Downs crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the first leg of her journey across America.

Kiersten Downs crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the first leg of her journey across America.

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