George Mason University has a large percentage—approximately 10% self-identified—of active duty military, veterans and dependents among its student body.
To ensure these individuals and their families receive the assistance and acquire the skills they need, Mason is providing and expanding comprehensive and crucial services for this population through the newly formed Military, Veterans, & Families Initiative (MVFI).
“Members of the military—and their families—make untold sacrifices for the sake of the nation. It is our responsibility to give back to these individuals in whatever way we can,” MVFI founder and director Keith Renshaw said. “Moreover, the mission of MVFI is wholly consistent with the mission of Mason—access to excellence for all individuals, and being an R1 university that is committed to helping solve big problems.”
The MVFI had its beginnings in 2015 when a group of faculty and staff began discussing ideas for a center dedicated to service members and veterans at Mason. Over time, the idea evolved to focus on organizing and bringing together Mason’s many activities in this area, without relocating all the programs into a new center. The objective is to connect individuals with others, raise programs’ visibility, and help them gain the support they need to achieve their goals, while allowing them to thrive in their existing spaces.
For example, when a veteran or family member goes to the Office of Military Services for help with benefits, they can also learn about arts workshops, mental health services, scholarships, and specialized programs. If someone who attends a Veterans and the Arts Initiative workshop could benefit from additional support, staff from the workshop can share information about specialized services available at the Center for Psychological Services.
“All of these incredible programs that Mason offers can further benefit from program evaluation conducted by researchers at the university,” Renshaw added. “These types of connections can enhance the already terrific efforts that are happening here.”
Under Renshaw’s guidance, and with the support of a philanthropic gift from Technatomy, whose CEO, Nadeem Butler, is a veteran and Mason alumnus, the initiative was able to be realized this year. MVFI programs are divided into four “pillars,” which are education, research, direct services, and workforce development. External partnerships are important as well, Renshaw said, and MVFI continues to form relationships with nonprofits in the area.
Programming in development includes a panel with Northern Virginia veterans on how to better meet the health care needs of veterans during the pandemic, and working with the Warrior Centric Healthcare Foundation on developing programming for health care professionals on some of the psychological issues that are more common in veteran populations.
“Much of our work is emerging as we connect with more people and gain more traction,” Renshaw said. “Our first steps are to connect with the varied programs and units, get a better understanding of their goals and needs, and identify how MVFI can potentially help.”
MVFI is hosting virtual events all week, in honor of Veterans Day. Events can be found here. There are plans for a large public event to mark the initiative in Fall 2021 once pandemic restrictions are lifted.