Veterans Day recognition program honors service

When Fountain Walker got out of the Marines in 1995, he was ready to transition to a civilian career. But although his eight years of artillery training and service instilled in him valuable skills and experiences, he wasn’t sure how to market himself to potential employers.  

“My resume was very difficult to put together,” Walker said, “simply because I just told them where to shoot the big guns.” Now Director of Security at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Deputy Chief of Police for the University, Walker eventually was able to translate his military-gained expertise into a successful career stateside by focusing on the logistical responsibilities he handled during missions. He now hopes an upcoming Veterans Day event on campus will help launch the careers of other veterans—including right here at the University.

“Building on Service: How to Attract and Retain Top Veteran Talent,” will take place Monday, Nov. 11, at the School of Social Service Administration. Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the University of Chicago Veterans Outreach Committee has organized the Veterans Day Recognition program under Walker’s leadership as chair of the Events and Activities Subcommittee. Following posting of the colors, the program will feature a staff veteran panel discussion on key components of successful veteran outreach and employment programs.

The topic of this year’s event was prompted in part by recent changes to the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) that will go into effect on March 24, 2014. The changes to the original 1976 legislation, announced by the US Department of Labor in August, update and strengthen the affirmative action and nondiscrimination responsibilities of contractors. Now institutions will be required to set benchmark goals for hiring protected veterans, for example, and annually analyze and report the effectiveness of its outreach and recruitment efforts.

University officials say that these regulatory changes mesh well with the goals of the Veterans Outreach Committee, now in its fourth year.

“The first few years really were about engagement and trying to increase recognition of our veterans, and now that we’ve been doing that for a little while we wanted to focus more on building the veteran community,” said David Chearo, who served in the Marines before pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Chicago and later becoming its Survey Lab Director. He will be one of the panelists on Monday. 

Last year, the committee centered its Veterans Day Recognition program around an exhibit at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts featuring stories, letters, poetry and memorabilia collected from campus veterans. The collection was archived at the Regenstein Library, and remains available to future students, faculty, staff and other academic appointee veterans wishing to add their stories.

In addition to Chearo, this year’s panelists set to speak about components of successful veteran outreach programs include three U.S. Army Veterans now employed by the University: Mike Cochran, certified journey electrician in Facilities Services; Angela Jacobs, Director of Talent Acquisition & Development in Alumni Relations and Development; and Anita Smith, Financial Administrator for UChicago Creative in University Communications. The discussion will be moderated by Phyllis Brust, Director of the University’s Dual Career Office and the Greater Chicago Midwest Higher Education Recruitment Consortium. The afternoon workshop, which has been submitted to the Human Resources Certification Institute for review, will focus on integrating core veteran affirmative action outreach and best practices for recruitment into day-to-day operations.

Aneesah Ali, Associate Provost and Affirmative Action Officer at the University of Chicago, said the event is open to the entire University and Medical Center community. “We want to showcase the talent we have here among our staff, and also to have guests hear from individuals who are part of the University about some of these best practices and how they might work,” she said. “Federal contractors are being challenged to recruit more veteran talent, and employers must be able to understand and identify this talent when it comes their way—even if it’s not translated perfectly,” Ali said. “This knowledge is important for all of us, including those with human resources responsibility, and especially the supervisors who ultimately make the hiring decisions. So everyone on campus is welcome to come participate and learn about it.”

Ali, who has coordinated the Veterans Outreach Committee since its creation in 2009, said she looks forward to VEVRAA’s new rules. “Prior to these changes, our obligation has been modest. We were asked to post openings within the state, ensure that our employment practices are nondiscriminatory and disseminate our policy internally. Now, we’ll be collecting and analyzing data in a way that is more on par with the affirmative action programs for women and minorities. For example, we’ll be looking at our selection rates and the effectiveness of our outreach,” she said. “In the presence of competing budgetary interests, it is important to understand what practices are effective and efficient. So we welcome this chance to examine our practices with an eye toward seeing what’s working and what isn’t. Ultimately, it’s building relationships that is fundamental to the success of any outreach and recruitment program.”

In addition to sharing information about ways to attract veteran talent, Ali said she hopes the event will continue to boost the visibility of the University’s veterans. Pre-initiative, she said, some of the veterans she spoke to said they wondered if they were the only veterans on campus. In fact, veterans on campus include John W. Boyer, dean of the College, and Daniel Shannon, dean of the Graham School. Two past presidents of the University were also veterans—Harry Pratt Judson (World War I) and Robert Maynard Hutchins (World War II).

Chearo said that, as a veteran himself, the fact that the University has a veterans initiative goes beyond numbers. “Part of what we talk about in terms of how to have a place that’s welcoming and veteran-friendly is that the community itself is one that recognizes and supports veterans’ service,” Chearo said. “It’s about creating a culture in which veterans are not only recognized but feel comfortable about their service and are able to share about it.”