Veterans possess the discipline, talent and drive to succeed in the business world, but they often need support systems to prepare them to navigate a new corporate landscape and make a healthy transition to civilian life after military service. Thanks to a $10 million gift from an anonymous alumna who serves as a trustee of the William & Mary Foundation, the university is developing a cutting-edge Veteran-to-Executive Transition program (W&M VET) that will prepare veterans to excel in civilian leadership roles.
W&M VET will build on William & Mary’s interdisciplinary strengths, its online degree offerings and its increasingly robust active-duty and veterans programs to help those who serve our country transition successfully into the civilian workforce. To lead the program, the gift creates a new position of special assistant for military and veterans affairs. That person, who has yet to be named, initially will report to President Katherine Rowe.
“We extend our enthusiastic thanks to our alumna for her generosity and inspiration. She challenged William & Mary to think transformatively about how we approach veterans’ education as a nation and to innovate in the way we support those who serve this country,” Rowe said.
“We see our new program as an opportunity not only to accelerate the professional transitions of highly skilled and experienced men and women but also to approach holistically W&M’s wide array of programming for military students and veterans,” Rowe added.
Providing comprehensive support for military and veteran students throughout the university, the W&M VET program includes resources to sustain the Office of Student Veteran Engagement (OSVE) — launched in 2019 as a two-year pilot program thanks to the generous support of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund — and to implement new transition programs while expanding current efforts. The special assistant for military and veteran affairs will work with OSVE Director Charlie Foster and others across campus to enhance programming and implement new initiatives.
William & Mary is well-situated to offer such a program, given its location in a region with the highest concentration of military personnel outside the Pentagon. More than 83,000 active duty military service members are based in Hampton Roads, which encompasses Williamsburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Hampton, Virginia Beach and nearby counties. Every year, an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 service members in the region leave the military.
While many veterans programs offer general guidance and focus on immediate job placement, William & Mary is taking a longer-term and more tailored approach with an emphasis on cultivating initiative and creativity, fostering cultural adjustment and holistic wellness as well as developing key management skills. The vision behind W&M VET is comprehensive career transition support that spans the university’s acclaimed programs in business, law, international affairs, education, health management, entrepreneurship and other disciplines.
The new McLeod Tyler Wellness Center, which was also established through the For the Bold campaign, will assist veterans and their families in working through stress resilience and adaptation to civilian life as they transition out of military service. Student veterans also will receive support through a “buddy system” that connects them with their peers and mentors who are experienced executives.
Given W&M’s reputation for academic excellence and its recent strides in veterans education, the anonymous donor said she sees an opportunity for the university to make a difference in the lives of those who have sacrificed so much.
“These men and women put their lives at risk on our behalf while serving our country, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. Through this program, we can do our part to ensure their successful integration into life beyond the military,” she said. “I believe William & Mary is an ideal place to help them prepare for their next career.”
The alumna said she hopes that other donors will recognize the value in a coordinated approach to veterans education, and will help to support and sustain W&M VET in the long run.
Among the veterans who pursue higher education nationally, only one in 10 attend colleges and universities with a six-year graduation rate over 70%, according to a study by the nonprofit Ithaka SR, as reported by U.S. News & World Report.
At William & Mary, those numbers are rising, and there are signs of increased demand. The online MBA program at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business was recently ranked No. 22 for military veterans by U.S. News & World Report. Military service members and veterans account for 170 of the 900 students in the university’s graduate business programs, and the Mason School anticipates that enrollment will increase as its online degree programs expand. Overall, there are more than 250 veterans and military service members attending William & Mary.
“The establishment of the W&M VET program reaffirms the university’s long-standing military tradition and commitment to veterans,” said Brigadier General (ret.) James R. Golden who serves as a volunteer senior consultant to President Rowe and played a leading role in coordinating the project. “It is a game changer for William & Mary. The initiative will significantly expand our capacity to bring campus partners together to support our exceptional veterans.”
Once the special assistant for military and veterans affairs is hired, they will work with an advisory group and Kathryn Floyd, director of the Whole of Government Center of Excellence, to coordinate programs across the university, build connections with military commands and government agencies, and market veterans programs.
Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65 L.H.D. ’98, who served as U.S. secretary of defense under both Republican and Democratic presidents and has 27 years of experience as an intelligence officer, including nine years as a National Security Council staff member, will serve as the honorary chair of the advisory group.
“My education at William & Mary was a formative experience in my own life, and I believe it continues to be for today's students, including those who have served, are serving, or plan to serve in the military,” Gates has said. “William & Mary's academic rigor, engaging community, and long-standing commitment to serving our country make it a wonderful place to build upon the leadership skills learned in the armed forces, and equips its graduates with the tools for lifelong success."
Among the current programs that W&M VET will bring together and enhance are the W&M Office of Student Veteran Engagement, the Law School’s Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic, the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center and the Military and Veterans’ Counseling Program at the School of Education. It also includes the Major General James Wright MBA Program at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, the Army ROTC program, the Whole of Government Center of Excellence’s national security programs and the Association of 1775 veterans alumni group.
The Mason School will establish a Military and Veterans Affairs Center to coordinate all of its military and veterans programs and facilitate access to resources and co-curricular initiatives for student veterans. It will hire a new director to lead that effort.
“Military veterans are an integral part of the university and contribute enormously to the vitality of the business school,” said Larry Pulley, dean of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. “They are principled leaders with tremendous capacity, and I am excited about the ways that this new program will enable them to flourish as students and as executives in the civilian world. We are grateful for the vision that our generous donor brings to this initiative and the resources she is providing to this groundbreaking effort.”
William & Mary already offers formidable corporate and military connections, bolstered by extensive job placement programs through its individual schools and the Cohen Career Center and a far-reaching alumni network. The Troops to Teachers Virginia Center and the Office of Student Veteran Engagement have strong relationships with military commands and veterans groups. In addition, the Law School is a recognized leader in preparing military lawyers and serving veterans with disability claims, and was recently ranked the most military-friendly graduate school in the U.S.