Three Cornell undergraduate veterans who have been actively advocating for veterans’ rights and recruitment on campus were accepted into the Leadership Institute of Student Veterans of America, an honor that is extended to only 100 student veterans each year.
The three veteran Cornellians will participate in an exclusive leadership Institute from Sept. 20-23 to take part in trainings on leadership and team building to better understand and advocate for student-veteran issues.
The SVA represents U.S. student veteran communities from over 1,300 schools and more than 500,000 student veterans, according to the non-profit’s website.
Ryan Kokell ’19, one of the three selected students, currently serves as the vice president of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association and chairman of the Ivy League Veterans Council. According to Kokell, he is looking forward to sharing the experience of establishing “from the ground” a veteran organization at Cornell.
Piragash Swargaloganathan ’19, another participant, used to be a medic in the Navy, which inspired him to come to Cornell to prepare for going to medical school.
“I enjoy being in a group of people who have done so much hard work to get where they are, because it’s not an easy transition … for military members who are in college,” Swargaloganathan said. “I’m looking forward to being with students who have this perspective and to learn about them.”
According to Swargaloganathan, the number of undergraduate veterans at Cornell has been rapidly increasing with the current population at about 30 students. The increase is in line with the University’s 2017 commitment to enroll 100 student veterans over the next three years.
With more and more veterans on campus, Swargaloganathan said he hopes to create a community where people can seek help from other members when situations like family issues arise, and where “new veterans that are coming in all feel at home.”
Swargaloganathan also said he would like to leave a better infrastructure at Cornell for future veteran students, as he believes being a nontraditional student should not hinder the achievements of student veterans.
“My biggest challenge is when I say I’m a veteran, sometimes I have been linked to a singular idea of who a veteran might be,” Swargaloganathan told The Sun.
According to Kokell, the mission of the CUVA, which was originally formed in 2015 to create a cohesive network for undergraduate veterans, has changed over the years. Their main focus now is increasing the number of Cornell student veterans, a goal shared by veterans in other top universities that led to the creation of The Ivy League Veterans Council in 2015.
“Through our advocacy, we were able to form a great relationship with Provost [Michael I.] Kotlikoff, whose daughter is one of the first female submariners in the US Navy,” Kokell said, adding that it is also crucial to convince the qualified candidates that they have what it takes to get into Cornell.
“Top universities produce many of our country’s leaders in business and public policy,” Kokell said. “If students don’t have exposure to veterans, if they can’t put a face to the title ‘veteran,’ how are we supposed to have any investment in sending other people’s children to war?”
Adam Klier ’20, another of the three participants, said he is encouraged by the growing number of student veterans at Cornell and around the country, and sees benefits in fostering an understanding of student veterans among the academic community.
“I think that there is a responsibility when you raise your voice — not just to speak out for your own concerns but also to address other people’s concerns,” Klier said. “I think that there’s a lot of wisdom and experience that Cornell veterans have to share.”