NRES Graduate Student Swenson Helps Fellow Veterans
On October 8th, Eric Swenson, a US Army veteran and current NRES graduate student, traveled to San Francisco, CA, to serve as the keynote speaker at an Alumni fundraising dinner which took place at the St. Francis Yacht Club to benefit the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education. The Center, which is slated to open in the fall of 2015, will provide live-in accommodations for 14 disabled University of Illinois student veterans and will extend additional services to hundreds more. Initial funding for the Center came from a lead gift of $6 million from the Chez Family Foundation. Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn, also dedicated a $4 million grant from the Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction and economic recovery plan to support this initiative. This center builds on the University of Illinois’ unique experience in serving persons with disabilities since 1948, when veterans of WWII entered higher education using the GI Bill, and today will focus on helping wounded and injured veterans and their families successfully navigate the higher education landscape.
Through his presentation and by engaging attendees before and after the program, Eric shared his view of the Center while providing a firsthand perspective of life as a student veteran. This included the culture shock of transitioning to campus life, as well as the challenges of returning to the classroom and of finding meaning in a new mission outside the military. Eric also talked about the value veterans bring with them – their selflessness, dedication to duty, and toughness – that can make them leaders on campus and beyond. Although it will take time to build authentic relationships with donors, Eric facilitated a dialogue with a largely civilian audience to communicate how their investment in student veterans will reap larger social dividends. Also speaking at the Gala were Dean Tanya M. Gallagher – College of Applied Health Sciences, Kyle L. Kostelecky – Director of the Center for Wounded Veterans, and Lieutenant Colonel Matthew C. Shortal – Former Blue Angels Pilot and Graduate of TOPGUN.