Several hundred people—many of them student and alumni veterans—gathered November 17 to celebrate the grand opening of UT’s Veteran Resource Center in John C. Hodges Library.
The center, which opened this summer across from One Stop, provides student veterans with a place to study, socialize, and meet with coordinators who can help them access needed services.
Chancellor Beverly Davenport spoke at the event, telling the crowd about her son, Ford Sypher, who was deployed three times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan as a team leader with the Army’s storied 75th Ranger Regiment and received the Bronze Star Medal.
“What he has done has humbled me,” she said, adding that watching him also has opened her eyes to the adjustment many veterans face when returning to college.
“We want more veterans on our campus,” she said, explaining that veterans—with their experiences and perspective—add a valuable dimension to the student body.
Davenport said the new Veterans Resource Center underscores the warm welcome the university wants to extend to student veterans.
Being located in Hodges Library—a place that serves all students—is “symbolically significant,” she said. “You are at the heart of what we do.”
Also speaking at the event were senior William McGovern, a US Marine veteran who is majoring in political science and plans to go to law school; Many-Bears Grinder, the commissioner to the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services; and Major General Max Haston, Tennessee’s adjutant general. Haston is responsible for the supervision of the Military Department of Tennessee, which includes the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and the Tennessee State Guard.
During the ceremony, a video message was played from country music icon Charlie Daniels, whose Journey Home Project donated $10,000 to outfit the Veterans Resource Center with technology to be used by student veterans.
Dennis Taylor of the North Knoxville chapter of Quilts of Valor presented quilts to four UT veterans: students Brent Bennae and Brandon Pendergrass; Ingrid Ruffin, student success librarian for First-Year Programs; and Troy Lane, associate vice chancellor for public safety and chief of the UT Police Department.
Those attending received commemorative military challenge coins as mementos.
“Challenge coins are a long-standing tradition to honor those who have achieved high merit in their duties. The coin is a sign of respect, appreciation, or admiration for an individual’s success,” said Veteran Student Services Coordinator Jayetta Rogers. “Our challenge coins bear the phrase ‘Past. Present. Future.’ The past represents UT graduates; the present commemorates the grand opening of the Veterans Resource Center; and the future represents student veterans who will attend UT in years to come.”
The coin design also will be used to create a commencement medallion. Student veterans graduating in December will be the first to wear these medallions.
After the ribbon cutting, the crowd was invited downstairs to a reception in the Veterans Resource Center.
Smokey X was on hand to greet guests and pose for photos beside a mural painted by artist and UT alumna Payton Marie Miller—known for her paintings on the Rock.
Rogers said she and Veteran Student Services Assistant Coordinator Vickie Clark met with Miller several times to discuss the mural concept.
“We told her we wanted something original and specific to UT and the military,” Rogers said.
The mural features three images of Smokey wearing various military hats and the emblems of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The background includes a silhouette of a flag and the Smoky Mountains.
A Student Veterans of America Home Depot Vet Center Initiative grant was used to purchase Miller’s paint and supplies.
About 530 veterans and 445 military spouses and dependents are attending UT this fall using VA benefits.
The university ranks 31st among all public universities in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Colleges for Veterans. Last year, UT received the VETS Campus designation from the state, and in 2014, UT became the first school in Tennessee to be designated a Purple Heart University.
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)