Brian Knapp, commander of the Veterans Club on the Cayuga Community College’s Auburn Campus, has been invited to participate in a panel discussion at the 5th Annual Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference in Orlando, Fla., this coming January. He was selected to participate on this panel because of the rapid progress the College Veterans Club has achieved in a short time.
The four-day conference, “National Networking – Local Impact,” is intended for student veterans and supporters and features seminars, workshops and networking sessions. Knapp will serve on a panel that will discuss, “Student Veteran Leaders – Current Challenges and Successes.” Many Fortune 500 companies, including Google, will be represented at the conference. Knapp said Google is a big player in the SVA organization.
“Initially, I thought I was being contacted to just attend the conference, but then I realized that they were asking me to serve on the panel,” Knapp said. “I think being invited to speak on the panel shows just how much the Veterans Club and the College have accomplished in such a short amount of time.”
Knapp, originally from Fleming, N.Y., served in the Marine Corps from 2006 to 2011, including seven months in Afghanistan where he was injured by a roadside bomb. After he recovered from his injuries, he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Knapp was a logistician and embarkation specialist, responsible for aircraft load plans for deployment and training. He is currently studying geographic information systems at Cayuga, and won the Ralph W. Standbrook Scholarship to support his studies. Knapp said he plans to continue his studies in the geographic information field after he graduates from Cayuga.
As commander of the Veterans Club, Knapp oversees the club meetings, which he said are regularly attended by 10 to 12 of the approximately 60 veterans on the Auburn campus. The club exists to build camaraderie among student veterans, help them network, get their questions answered, and find help for other situations that arise. Knapp has a heart for helping veterans, but he said the group can only help those who raise the issues that are important to them. He would like more of Cayuga’s student veterans to attend the club’s meetings to take advantage of what the club has to offer.
Cayuga’s club is one of more than 500 chapters in the nationwide organization. The club meets every Friday at 11 a.m. in the Local History room in the Bourke Memorial Library. The Veterans Club would eventually like to see a dedicated office on campus for veterans. “If we had a Veterans’ Office we would be able to attract more veterans to the college,” Knapp said.
In addition to leading club meetings, Knapp is the student liaison to the Veterans Working Group on campus, an advisory group whose goal is to make the campus more veteran-friendly. He also represents the College and the club at the Cayuga-initiated Veteran Regional Consortium. More than 100 colleges and universities, and federal, state, and local veteran services groups, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, currently participate in the consortium, which is dedicated to streamlining services for veteran students. He also co-presented “Boots to Books: Transitioning Veterans from Military to College” during the 19th National Conference on Students in Transition in Philadelphia, in October.
Knapp said the two biggest challenges he faced returning to civilian life were finding a job and a place to live when he and his wife, Christina, moved from North Carolina to New York. Transitioning from military life to being a student required some flexibility, but that’s nothing to new for Knapp.
“I adapted to new situations all the time in the military,” he said. “This was no different. I just had to do the same thing in reverse.”
Based on feedback from student veterans like Knapp, the College was able to partner with New York State Division of Veterans Affairs to bring in a veterans counselor help veterans learn about such services as the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), which is available to help unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 who don’t qualify for any other GI benefits.
Knapp said he hopes the Veterans Club and its activities are helping educate others about veteran issues. “All vets don’t all have post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “But we do have life experiences that we would love to share. In the military, we learned leadership skills, and we did a lot of growing up in a short time.”