A group devoted to helping veterans transition to college -- the Student Veterans of America -- has aimed its nationwide spotlight on efforts by the University of Southern Maine.
The DC-based SVA recently awarded its first Maine grant to USM's student-led Husky Veterans. And when the national organization holds its national conference January 5th to 7th in Anaheim, Calif, USM will be represented.
Husky Veterans founder Camden Ege -- a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and graduate student from Sanford -- will present delegates with the training he gives USM faculty and staff. His "Green Zone" classes at campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston aim to help personnel throughout the University better understand veterans' experiences, needs and concerns.
The USM group will also vie for the top prize in the National Business Plan Competition. It is the only student group from New England to be honored with the selection. Other schools include Kansas State University, San Diego Mesa College and the University of Delaware.
The group was also honored with the selection of Lorraine Spaulding as one of three finalists for the title of Advisor of the Year. Spaulding, the Husky Veterans advisor, also serves USM as its coordinator of veterans services.
"I'm overwhelmed," Spaulding said, by her nomination and the other honors. "We've done well, but what I am really hoping for is that we reach out to more veterans."
More than 300 veterans are currently enrolled at USM. Nationally, the Student Veterans of America have more than 1,300 chapters and represent nearly half a million veterans.
"In many cases, help exists for veterans," Spaulding said. "They just need to know it's here. If notoriety can help bring them into Husky Veterans or the Veterans Services office, then it's all worth it."
Though she has been singled out, Spaulding plans to attend the California conference to help represent USM.
"It's really an honor to us because we're still new." said Ege, who helped merge to previous student veterans groups this fall into the unified Husky Veterans. The chapter grant from the national group, totalling $1,500, will mostly be spent on efforts to help boost the group's visibility on USM's campuses in hopes of recruiting more members.
"This is a great opportunity for our students to shine and for USM to be known as a national competitor when it comes to serving our veterans," USM President Glenn Cummings said.
Earlier this year, USM was recognized as one of the top 25 Military Friendly public universities in the country for its work to help veterans succeed. Initiatives such as accepting credit for military training, veteran-specific orientation, "Green Zone" training and the establishment of an admissions liaison for veterans, led to the listing in the "2016 Guide to Military Friendly Schools."