IVMF, in addition to having a dedicated history of serving veterans and their families, has a strong standing tradition of working with students to enhance their academic careers at Syracuse University. Currently, the IVMF is integrating students into more than a dozen ongoing projects around campus that provide opportunities for critical thinking and making real impacts on public policy and society.
The Center of Excellence (CoE) for Veteran Entrepreneurship, at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), along with the Syracuse Veterans Legal Clinic (SVLC), and two teams of graduate students enrolled in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University, combined their knowledge and skills to assist and support veterans transitioning to civilian life, those who want to own businesses, and those facing legal issues related to their veteran and military status. MPA candidates May Maani, Jonathan Muchin, Ryan Platner, Maxwell Ruppersburg, Emily Alber Chase, Margaret McLaughlin, and Kicia Sears, together with the CoE and the SVLC teams examined methods and approaches currently available to veterans, performed a needs assessment, and then worked collaboratively to better existing processes. The MPA students worked in two teams. One team designed and developed an online tool to better provide veterans with guidance in applying attributes gained while in service to civilian employment and business ownership. The other team closely examined the clinical operations of the SVLC, offering improvements in procedures, approaches, and veteran feedback. The graduate students took on these tasks as part of their capstone projects at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
The capstone project at Maxwell gives MPA students the opportunity to apply knowledge and theory from the public administration curriculum in a real-world setting. Small teams of graduate students are paired with local organizations and tasked with developing solutions for organizational problems and needs, all within a 4-week time frame. By the end of capstone, MPA graduates gain valuable real-world experience working with both the public and private sector, and nonprofit organizations.
The one capstone team, partnered with IVMF’s Center of Excellence (CoE) for Veteran Entrepreneurship, designed, what they called, the Veteran Entrepreneurship Tool, or VET. Developed as an online tool, VET is as a way for veterans and civilian business owners to connect, organize, share knowledge, resources, and networks, and guide each other through the entrepreneurial process. The CoE, one of the many veteran-centered programs within IVMF, unites veteran- owned businesses (VOBs), researchers, small business program managers, policymakers, resources, and private and public companies, helping to make transitioning service members, veterans, and their families successful business owners. The Center is designed to be, and functions as, the hub of veteran business ownership.
Consistent with the focus of the CoE, VET puts an emphasis on direct services such as networking, support systems, mentorship, and business development along with educational, financial, and legal support. VET was designed in response to a need for more online opportunities and resources for veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce and for veterans looking to start their own businesses. VET walks the user through targeted questions, provides targeted resources, and emphasizes local connections in specified areas. Although VET is still in the preliminary stage, the capstone team and their advisor believe it will evolve into a powerful tool for veteran entrepreneurs that will help CoE create thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems.
“The work that these students did for the CoE was incredibly valuable” says Misty Stutsman, Director of the CoE. “The deliverables provided will have immediate and lasting impacts on the work that we do. I was very impressed with the level of initiative and professionalism of this group and look forward to implementing the VET tool.”
The other capstone team completed their project in partnership with the Syracuse Veterans Legal Clinic, by evaluating the past year of services provided by the SVLC and recommending improvements. The SVLC, founded in 2015 under the umbrella of the Clinical Experiential Education department at the Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) by veterans and former law students, provides free legal representation tailored to the unique needs of veterans and service members post-transition. Over the past year, the clinic has served countless veterans by providing assistance with issues pertaining to Veterans’ Administration (VA) benefits and discharge upgrades. Discharge upgrades are an important tool in assisting veterans ending their military career with a less than a fully Honorable Discharge, which can impose significant limitations on VA benefits entitlement and employment opportunities.
After a thorough analysis, the capstone team made recommendations to improve the way the legal clinic provides services and collects data. As a result, the team developed updated strategies and materials, and created standard operating procedures within the clinic. The team’s accomplishments included building a more robust database platform, designing a survey to obtain client feedback, completing an evaluation of the clinic’s first-year performance, and developing a communications strategy for stakeholder relations. These recommendations and deliverables were all aimed at improving service delivery, strengthening efficiency, and creating sustainable growth for an expanding network of veterans in Central New York.
“The insight that the capstone team provided was invaluable,” says Yelena Duterte, Director of the SVLC. Says Duterte, “after only four weeks of work, the team delivered suggestions aimed at improving the efficiency of our internal operations, and gave us recommendations to make our program successful in the realm of fundraising.”
Exhaustive research and analysis went into the development of both projects. “It’s incredible what these two teams accomplished in only one month,” says Nicholas Armstrong, Ph.D., Senior Director of Research and Policy at the IVMF. Armstrong, who also served as the faculty advisor for both capstone teams, says “not only did these students demonstrate both the skill and professionalism of top-notch consultants, they made a lasting impact by accelerating the development of two new initiatives on our campus that serve the veteran community.”