VMAS Quarter 4 Introduction
The best part about closing out another year is taking the time to reflect on what we have been able to accomplish. In this newsletter, we will start with updates specific to Q4, followed by a summary of 2023, and close with our outlook for 2024. To start, we want to say THANK YOU to our volunteers, members, supporters, sponsors, and everyone else who has been a part of our organization's success.
In November one of our Executive Committee members, Steven Strain, sat down with the Director of the Wright State Veteran & Military Center, Dr. Seth Gordon, to discuss the suicide rate among the Veteran and Military community. This conversation is the latest installment of Veterans Voices with WYSO, a veteran-to-veteran storytelling project designed to let Miami Valley veterans describe their own experiences. Strain is a Marine Corps Veteran and Attorney for the Montgomery County Veterans Services Commission and has both personal and professional experience with Veteran suicide. Learn more and listen to this conversation on the WYSO site.
For the month of December, Navy Veteran and VMAS member Jenna Pepper coordinated a donation drive with the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 101 to collect items in need for the Dayton VA Hospital. VMAS had donation stations available at four different collection points throughout the city of Dayton. This donation drive is yet another example of how Wright State VMAS serves more than just the Wright State community.
Each year we measure a number of “person-based” metrics to understand our growth rate. This includes measuring membership, social media engagement, and event attendance. Membership metrics are broken into two different categories; registered members and active members. Registered members are those who have signed up through our membership page and are included in all our regular email distributions. Active members attend our weekly meeting when they have the time and are actively engaged in some form of planning and execution. We are pleased to share that this year we have grown our registered membership by 39% and active membership by 30%. Our social media counts have also seen steady increases this year; Facebook likes are up 5%, Instagram followers are up 16%, and LinkedIn followers are up 42%. We also saw increases in event attendance this year, with the Cornhole Tournament growing 25% and the Golf Outing growing 35%.
VMAS Annual Initiatives
The 2023 VMAS Cornhole Tournament increased from 16 to 20 teams in 2023 and was hosted at the Kettering VFW Post 9927. Those in attendance included Veterans, students, Army ROTC cadets, VSO reps, family, friends, and supporters. This double-elimination, family-friendly event is designed to provide a place to connect socially in between games. Tournament players and guests were also able to enjoy finger foods while the VFW cooked up over 50 hot sandwiches and served more than 100 drinks, all included in the cost of event registration. While the growth for our Cornhole Tournament was a solid win for the group, our Golf Outing set the bar even higher.
The 2023 VMAS Golf Outing is our largest fundraising event and saw a 35% increase in the number of golfers compared to 2022. Our sponsor support also increased in 2023, with 15 total sponsors supporting this event. We continue to improve upon how this event is executed, with golfers having the option to enjoy some good old-fashioned “military PT” exercises to save a stroke on their final score. The Cornhole Tournament and Golf Outing are VMAS-specific events, but we also partner with the Wright State Veteran & Military Center (VMC) throughout the year to connect with the student population.
Each Spring and Fall semester we co-host a major mixer with the VMC to connect students to alumni and local employers. The goal of a major mixer is to connect students with those in the workforce employed in their field of study, exposing them to the type of work they may see after graduation. Those who attend can enjoy dinner provided by the VMC and drinks provided by VMAS, so our guests can focus on enjoying the company of those around them. Interested in joining us for the next mixer? Keep an eye on our events page to see when and where the next mixer is happening.
This year we also launched the Career Advancement Program (CAP). The CAP exists to reimburse qualifying individuals up to $500 toward professional development expenses. After two years of planning and preparation, we were able to effectively launch the program, process applications, and award funds without issue. One of the awardees, Andrea F., had this to say, “... The support and communication throughout the application process made it incredibly easy to access the financial support needed for me to continue my professional development as a School Counselor, which is an ever-changing career field. I wholeheartedly recommend this program to anyone seeking to further their education and advance their career. It's a testament to the organization's dedication to veterans and veteran-connected alumni.” The next application window for the Career Advancement Program, made possible by Fifth Third Bank, opens in March of 2024.
Supporting Wright State University
This year we also assisted the VMC in dedicating the Captain Shawn English Champion Garden. Captain English is a 1999 Wright State Army ROTC graduate who was killed-in-action during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006. The memorial is a space to honor service members, veterans, and those who support, or champion, their success. The space was dedicated on September 8th with remarks from Wright State President Sue Edwards, Ph.D.; Tom Gunlock, chair of the Board of Trustees; Seth Gordon, Ph.D., director of the Veteran and Military Center; Jacob Bashore, who participated in Army ROTC with English; Anthony Heiland, president of the Wright State Veteran and Military Society; and Tricia English, Shawn English’s widow. Visit the Champion Garden website if you’re interested in donating or preserving the story of a champion in your life.
Our involvement with Wright State also extends into the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, a new program at the university being managed by the Raj Soin College of Business. This program was created by a $3.6 million donation by Reynolds & Reynolds with the goal of supporting the success of military veterans who are aspiring entrepreneurs. The full three-phase program is taught by entrepreneurs, professionals, and faculty in Wright State University’s Raj Soin College of Business who support small business development. This year VMAS hosted a social event for the first cohort, giving those in attendance to step away from the classroom and unwind. The program is looking for local entrepreneurs who may be interested in serving as mentors and speakers for future iterations of the program. Interested parties should contact Elizabeth.Harding@Wright.edu.
We also leveraged the students of Dr. Kollard’s Marketing class this year to help us understand the market in which we operate. The final project for a group of students in his Fall semester class focused on completing an analysis of other university-based veteran and military alumni organizations. This analysis focused on organizations associated with universities similar in size to Wright State University and provided some key insights that we incorporated into our strategy. This was the first time we engaged directly with a university professor to provide a final product for our team. The lessons learned through this process will help us continue to leverage the student body in a way that benefits all parties involved.
To wrap up our 2023 summary, we want to thank everyone who supported Wright Day to Give, Wright State's largest annual fundraising program. The program ran the first week of October and ended with more than 1,000 donors giving over $160,000. VMAS helped the on-campus Veteran & Military Center (VMC) raise over $1,500 for the VMC Excellence Fund, ranking second among funds raised by an Alumni Society program.
One of our biggest goals for 2024 will be increasing our active members. 2023 saw the largest active member growth to date thanks to our recruiting efforts. Active members are critical to our success as they help us turn ideas into reality. If you’re interested in becoming an active member, make sure you are signed up as a registered member and join us for one of our weekly meetings to get involved.
From an event perspective, the focus for 2024 is continuing to improve how we execute our recurring events. Each year we focus on elevating the experience of those in attendance with the goal of making these truly unique experiences. For our major mixers, it’s all about connecting students and alumni in an effort to learn from one another. The Cornhole Tournament and Golf Outing serve as the foundation for our fundraising activities and will continue to be a key part of our organization's calendar. Keep an eye on our events page next year so you can join us at one of these events.
From the Wright State perspective, we will continue to engage with professors and students to create a mutually beneficial relationship that provides actionable items to our organization. We will also continue to support the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with a social event and mentoring/speaker support.
The Career Advancement Program will also see improvements for the year of 2024. Proposed improvements include; extending the application window, expanding eligibility, and streamlining the review and approval process. The application window for 2024 is set to open in March, applications can be submitted on the VMAS CAP site when the next program window opens.
VMAS Major Mixer w/ the VMC @ TBD - January 2024
WSUAA Alumni Beer Tasting @ Nutter Center - February 10, 2024
Wright State Homecoming - February 14, 2024
WSUAA Alumni Achievement Awards @ Student Union - February 16, 2024
VMAS Cornhole Tournament @ Kettering VFW Post 9927 - March 23, 2024
WSUAA Alumni Rowdy Night at the Races @ Student Union - May 4, 2024
WSUAA Alumni Day @ Kings Island - June 9, 2024
VMAS Golf Outing @ Beavercreek Golf Club - September 7, 2024
Support the Alumni Association by attending one of their events, purchasing a Wright State license plate, or by becoming a Wright State Alumni Association Gold Member for as little as $50 a year.
Don’t forget to check out the Wright State Alumni Association calendar for more events.