As the university’s first veteran student services advisor, Jen Goetz knows what veterans bring to Washington University in St. Louis — leadership, perspective, diversity and, yes, federal education dollars. She is not alone.
“Everyone I have met at Washington University recognizes student veterans make us better,” said Goetz, who started in October. “My job is to leverage the great people and programs that exist at WashU to attract and support more veterans.”
Goetz is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and now an Air Force reservist. She also is a 2016 alumna of the university’s Brown School, where she focused on veterans’ social and economic development. As a member of student organization WUVets, she was among a group of students who lobbied Provost Holden Thorp to create the position she now holds. Thorp, the son of a veteran, agreed that Washington University could do more.
“We wanted someone who is getting up every day thinking how we can strengthen our programs for veterans,” Thorp said. “All of us are committed to better serving our veterans. Already you’ve seen Olin, University College, the Brown School and the law school be very intentional about building these programs. As Jen strengthens those initiatives, other parts of the university also start to engage more fully. If you think about the life skills and experiences these veterans have and what we want to achieve as a top research university, it just makes sense to have someone in this office who is focused exclusively on these students.”
Ed Tjaden, WUVets president and a School of Law student, said he was excited to have Goetz on the job. They are working together, along with members of the Olin Veterans Association and the Law Student Veterans Association, to promote the university’s 2017 Veterans Day Celebration featuring Illinois U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Army veteran and double amputee, and Robert A. McDonald, former secretary of veterans affairs, at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, in Edison Theatre. The event also will feature a panel of veterans, including John Inazu, the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at the School of Law. Duckworth is another high-profile get for the organizations, which welcomed Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill last year.
“These leaders clearly see we have a committed and passionate veteran community,” Tjaden said. “And we have so much to learn from them. Like Sen. John McCain, Sen. Duckworth leads with honesty and respect. No matter our politics, we veterans all aspire to be that sort of leader.”
Tjaden also said Veterans Day is an opportunity to educate the 93 percent of Americans who have not served.
“TV portrays us as either heroes or broken, but we each have a unique story to tell,” Tjaden said. “My biggest hope is that undergraduates attend this event and then seek us out to ask questions. I’ve never met a veteran who isn’t willing to share their experience with others.”
Connecting veterans to improve outcomes
Tjaden’s story started in Camp Point, Ill., where he married his high school sweetheart. He enrolled at Eastern Illinois University but frequently skipped class. Tjaden dropped out, in debt and with a newborn son. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Iraq for seven years until a leg injury forced him to resign.
Doctors told Tjaden he would never walk again, but he was determined to recover so he could play with his three children, now ages 15, 6 and 3. Today, Tjaden can walk, though sometimes with a cane and always with a degree of discomfort.
That same drive propelled him through his pre-law studies back at Eastern Illinois University. Once a C student, Tjaden graduated on the dean’s list. He applied to Washington University because it was close to home — but he ultimately enrolled because of the support he received from the School of Law community, including Katherine Scannell, associate dean of admissions and placement; WUVets co-founder David Marold, who graduated in 2015; and Inazu.
“Dean Scannell is willing to do what it take to get veterans in the door,” Tjaden said. “She introduced me to David, who told me all of the ways his military service helped him in law school and how I could thrive here too.
“And then when I got here and was having trouble acclimating, it was Professor Inazu who explained that every new law student — veteran or not — has those issues. He gave me the confidence I needed.”
Goetz wants every prospective student to have a story like Tjaden’s. One of her first goals is to take a census of veterans on campus so they can connect to other prospective students, faculty and staff. Currently, some 120 veterans attend Washington University using Veteran Affairs benefits including the G.I. Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program and Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment.
“There is evidence to support that veterans who connect to the veteran community — students, staff and professors — see better educational outcomes,” Goetz said.
Goetz also has created a comprehensive Military and Veteran Services website , is launching a veteran ally program for faculty and staff and wants to better connect veterans with health needs, mental or physical, to university services. She also wants to adapt the robust recruitment, orientation and alumni programs that Olin Business School established for its MBA student veterans to other schools.
“Our student veterans deserve nothing less than all a great WashU education has to offer,” Goetz said. “Providing a focal point for all things veteran and all things military is a great start.”