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Student veterans receive advice, support

Northeastern University hosted Student Veteran Appreciation Day on Saturday, a daylong symposium featuring a series of discussions, workshops, and networking opportunities for the young servicemembers.

Students, state officials, and veterans’ services representatives attended the event, which was held in the Curry Student Center and organized by Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization. The event took place only a few days before the Student Veteran Advisory Board is expected to release a report recommending how Massachusetts can continue supporting veterans’ education. The seven-member board was established last year and commissioned by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans Services and the state Department of Veterans’ Services to explore the experiences of student veterans in Massachusetts through listening tours and focus groups.

Erik DeGiorgi, chair of the Massachusetts Student Veteran Advisory Board, speaks during the Student Veterans Appreciation Day. Photo by Scott Eisen.

Erik DeGiorgi, chair of the Massachusetts Student Veteran Advisory Board, speaks during Student Veterans Appreciation Day. Photo by Scott Eisen.

At the symposium’s opening ceremony, Erik DeGiorgi described the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life after combat duty in Afghanistan. DeGiorgi, a Marine Corps veteran and the advisory board’s chairman, noted that college has inspired him to succeed, saying, “It wasn’t until I stepped into a classroom that I discovered who I was and what I was capable of.”

DeGiorgi urged student veterans to take advantage of their educational opportunities though financial benefits such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. “It’s our responsibility to use this gift from our society to become the next generation of leaders within it,” he said.

The opening ceremony also featured remarks from Coleman Nee, secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services; John W. Polanowicz, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services; Col. Francis Magurn, chief of the joint staff, Massachusetts Army National Guard; and Michael Trudeau, a recent Northeastern graduate and the president of the SVO. Trudeau also serves as a Student Veteran Advisory Board member.

Michael Trudeau, outgoing president of the Northeastern's Student Veterans Organization, speaks during the Student Veterans Appreciation Day. Photo by Scott Eisen.

Michael Trudeau, president of the Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization, speaks during Student Veterans Appreciation Day. Photo by Scott Eisen.

State officials hailed the efforts of the board, which they said exemplifies Massachusetts’ national leadership in providing support and resources to student veterans.

Workshops and breakout sessions held throughout the day focused on a range of topics, from building a student veterans organization to understanding state and federal benefits for student veterans. An exhibition hall also paired prospective and current student veterans with representatives from public and private service providers and colleges and universities.

In January, the Student Veterans of America recognized Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization as its top chapter in the United States. The SVO offers career services, advocacy, and other programming to student veterans, many of whom participated in a nine-kilometer fundraising run earlier this month in support of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program.

Northeastern, for its part, has developed a strong commitment to educating student veterans through the federal government’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which currently provides free tuition to more than 130 veterans who have served in the post-9/11 era. In 2009, the university pledged $2 million to help veterans earn a college education through the program, which offers students access to bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and law degrees.