Ask a Veteran: Sylvia O'Hara
by Jess Dalton
Sylvia O’Hara, director of the Westminster College Center for Veteran and Military Services, didn’t take a straight line into advocacy work. “After my Army service, I studied journalism at the University of Utah,” Sylvia says. “I was drawn to the personal connections and storytelling that journalism afforded.” That drive for connection fuels her work at Westminster.
The Center for Veteran and Military Services is still new for Westminster College. How did it come about?
“The center was born out of the drive to create a space on campus that speaks to the unique needs of nontraditional students. Kim T. Adamson, a former Marine, and the Harold Burton Foundation are the lead donors for the center and we receive significant monetary and general support from the Westminster College community. Our students are military veterans, active military students, ROTC, midshipmen, and the families of service men and women. We serve as a resource to these students and give them the tools they need to be successful at Westminster. At any given time, we serve between 100 and 150 students.”
Westminster College was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best schools in the country for veterans, for the fourth year in a row. First, congratulations are in order.
“Thank you! It was gratifying to see the efforts of our center recognized on a national stage. Since we opened on September 11, 2015, we have worked diligently to build a foundation of programs that reflect the culture of Westminster.”
What programs have had an immediate impact?
“Students who serve in the military face unique challenges during a transition to civilian life. While they possess the core life skills that will enable their success, leaving military life requires those skills to be refocused. We wanted to address that first and did so by establishing a peer-mentoring program. Students—and perspective students—are matched with another student to help them navigate the nuances of higher education. That peer relationship has helped us establish a community that aids our students in achieving their goals.
We’ve also established a program specific to women veterans. Women, in general, have a different military and civilian experience. They’re not often given a platform to take pride in their service. The center aims to bring women together with shared experiences, where their military service is understood and valued.
The Center for Veteran and Military Services is not a place for a select group of students to come and study. It is a living community that cares for the whole student.”
What is in the future for the center?
“In our first few years, we’ve laid a solid foundation for our students and we would like to expand the impact and inclusivity. Utah has remarkable resources for military families and it is my passion to serve this community. As the center grows and evolves, I would like to share the focus of the veteran’s center with the rest of our campus family and contribute to the inclusiveness of Westminster College.”
It’s an exciting time to be involved with the Center for Veteran and Military Services. What volunteer opportunities are available for alumni?
“This center became a reality because our alumni and donors shared our vision to give our veterans maximum access to the extensive resources available. As we continue to grow, alumni can become a part of our network to support military students and their families through mentorship and career opportunities—or volunteer to support the current center programs.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster College’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.