John Tolley, May 25, 2020
No one is sure exactly where and when Memorial Day was first observed. Days set aside to gather with family and friends to decorate cemeteries and the graves of veterans have long been a common spring time occurrence across the nation.
After the Civil War, Americans met annually to adorn the graves of those who laid down their lives in the preservation of our union. So began the tradition of honoring our women and men in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Today, LiveBIG takes a look at how the Big Ten Conference supports our military, their families and their communities. We salute all those who serve, have served or are planning to serve. Have a happy Memorial Day.
Sarah Bassett served in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2013, working as a human intelligence collector. That position involved going into the villages she was stationed in and gathering information for her division by speaking with locals. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Bassett was involved in operations and interrogations, but all of that stemmed from her ability to make connections and pay attention to details.
Bassett now works a world away from those places, but her job is strikingly similar. In September, she began her role as outreach coordinator for female veterans at Indiana University, working with women who have served or are currently serving in the military to provide beneficial support and resources.
A Vietnam War veteran, Billy, sits in the back corner of a two-day writing workshop. He introduces himself, listens quietly and doesn't say much throughout the first day. The second day, something happens.
"Billy just started talking, and he just talked for about 10 minutes, even longer maybe. And by the time he's done, he's crying, I'm crying, everybody in the room's crying," Capps shares. "And his wife ? she looks at me and she goes, 'I've been married to this guy 30 years, I've never heard any of that.'"
Capps, a University of Maryland faculty member, founded the Veterans Writing Project in 2011. He hoped to share what he had learned in his own graduate writing program and support the literary, social and therapeutic benefits of veterans telling their own stories.
He could have just accepted his degree from Northwestern University and joined the workforce 14 years ago. But he didn't.
He could have completed his commitment to the U.S. Navy after serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom aboard the USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and joined any major corporation in Chicago. But he didn't.
Todd Connor saw an opportunity to serve his country after graduating from Northwestern. And after working in a number of roles following his "graduation" from the Navy, he saw an opportunity to serve his fellow veterans.
Now he's about to change the business landscape for them.
The first fixed-route buses with wheelchair lifts?
The first college-level adaptive sports and recreation program?
The first – and still the only – residential program to serve students with severe disabilities who require assistance with tasks of daily life?
When it comes to providing an accessible and equal learning environment for all students, the University of Illinois is an institution of firsts. And, when it comes to helping our nation's wounded veterans adjust from military to collegiate life, it's no different.
"In 1948, [UIUC] opened the first facility to accommodate WWII veterans who had returned with disabilities," said Dr. Tanya Gallagher, dean of UIUC's College of Applied Sciences. "We had a founder [Dr. Timothy Nugent] who believed that veterans should be able to use the GI Bill to advance their education, and they really weren't able to do that because there were not accommodations."
The learning experience in college comes from so much more than books. It's about figuring out where – and how – you fit in with others.
For students who have served in the military, this can be a much trickier proposition than for the average student. Often, veterans are much older than their undergraduate classmates. They may already have a spouse and a family. And they have usually seen much more of the world than their counterparts.
Those vast gulfs in experiences serve as the basis for the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE), a program that started on the campus at University of Michigan and has been implemented in 37 universities across the country, including seven Big Ten schools.
"Our goal is to provide individual tailored support to each student. It's a battle buddy for college, someone who has a shared lived experience in military," says Timothy Nellett, a Program Manager for PAVE.