This will be one of the more noteworthy Veterans Day observances for Chris DeWitt, a former U.S. Army infantry officer and Northeastern graduate who recently started a newly created job on campus: preparing fellow service members for professional life outside the military.
“Yes, this is definitely a most significant Veterans Day, as I am now in a place to give back to those who’ve given us all,” DeWitt says, riffing off a similar line that appears on his LinkedIn profile beneath his photo: Serving those who’ve served us all.
DeWitt says being a veteran career adviser means helping students find the answers to questions about their future as they leave the disciplined military life for civilian society.
Some of the questions he fields: “‘How do I complete my transition from service? How do I adapt my experiences I had in the military into language and skills that civilian employers can understand and embrace?’” he says.
DeWitt says his position was created in response to the evolving needs of service members.
Northeastern’s graduation rate of 81.3% for military students is higher than the 54% national average reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to university figures. And 51% of student-veterans who graduate from Northeastern receive a job offer from a previous co-op employer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate for all veterans in October was 4.2%, up from 3.9% the previous month, according to government statistics. That is a sharp recovery from April 2020, when veterans’ unemployment spiked to 11.7% and the national unemployment rate hit 14.7%, both the highest marks seen in decades.
DeWitt’s role reflects organic growth in the Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers at Northeastern. It was launched in 2015 and later renamed after a $1 million gift by philanthropists Jim and Leslie Dolce.
Funding will support the center’s core responsibilities, which include co-op experiences for veterans, travel and other costs related to job searches, the hiring of tutors and job coaches, and assistance with other job transition costs such as moving expenses, travel, and childcare.
“Without the Dolces and their gift, we’d essentially be back at square one,” DeWitt says.
His new veteran career adviser role is a homecoming of sorts. He and his father graduated from Northeastern, and the younger DeWitt met his wife in the ROTC program. They married before going their separate ways for officer training―she in Texas, he in Georgia. Split apart for a year, they eventually reunited in Germany in the late 1980s.
“It was an absolutely fascinating time to be there because it was still the Russian Empire,” he says, accentuating the last three words for dramatic effect.
“We went to Berlin right after the wall fell. Then all of a sudden I got deployed to the first Gulf War, and that was a whole new experience. After the Gulf War, they started standing down units in Germany. We came back to the U.S. and I did my last tour with the 101st Airborne down at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and that’s where I basically separated from the military.”
People join the armed forces for different reasons; some crave the structure, some want to see the world. Many are driven by patriotism. DeWitt was motivated by something else.
“All my life, I’ve really just despised bullies,” he says. “As I was reading history books about Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan and their horrible crimes against humanity, I thought ‘Those are the guys I want to go kick the snot out of.’”
As a civilian, Dewitt relocated to his wife’s home state of Massachusetts, where he found work at Fidelity Investments, the financial services company. He stayed for close to 30 years. Over that span he noticed some former members of the armed forces were having trouble inside the company.
“And I will tell you that I struggled mightily, too,” he says. That was in 1993, and robust support networks were lacking because there weren’t that many veterans transitioning out of the military, DeWitt explains.
“Hiring managers would look at me and think I’m just marching, saluting, and following orders, when in reality veterans employ creativity, independence, and flexibility―all of the skills that any employer would want. Learning how to convey them was a big struggle.”
That’s one of the reasons he took the job with Northeastern. After taking a voluntary early retirement from Fidelity, DeWitt felt a calling to share his experience with others who wore the nation’s uniform, and lend them a helping hand or an attentive ear. All he needed was a channel for his ambitions.
“So when I saw the posting for a veteran career advisor at my alma mater,” he laughs, “I’m like ‘Here we go.’”
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