By Matt Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing
The University of South Florida seeks to strengthen the support and services it provides to veterans, military-connected students and first responders through a new request for funding in this year’s legislative session. The funds would lead to new or upgraded Office of Veteran Success (OVS) facilities on all three USF campuses, benefitting thousands of students.
Sponsored by state Sen. Jay Collins and state Rep. Danny Alvarez, the $10 million appropriations project request is expected to fund the first phase which will expand academic, career and health services for this student population. It would include larger shared physical spaces to provide a greater sense of community and belonging, educational support and career training to ensure students graduate on time and find employment in high-demand fields, and additional resources for mental health care, mobility access for disabled veterans and service dogs.
"As a retired Army Green Beret, I'm honored to sponsor this significant project for USF and its military-connected students and first responders," Collins said. "There is no better place than USF and the Tampa Bay region to have a state-of-the-art facility that connects our student-veterans, ROTC and first responders. I know that this will serve as a model for serving veterans and military-connected students' needs in higher education across the state of Florida."
Approximately $6 million would go to modernizing a facility to expand the capabilities of OVS on the St. Petersburg campus where one in four students are military-connected. This will increase existing services geared toward helping students transition from military to civilian life as well as provide for new endeavors, such as labs dedicated to student-veteran research.
The other $4 million is expected to fund the design and initial construction of a new Veterans, Military Families & First Responders Service Complex on the USF Tampa campus. A range of services for veterans, ROTC and first responders as well as programming geared toward these students is expected to be housed in this new facility. The complex would also serve as the new headquarters for the University Police Department and an Emergency Operations Center.
A portion of the funds would also go toward new technology and other upgrades at the veteran office on the Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“The University of South Florida is proud to serve as the home to thousands of veterans and military-connected students,” USF President Rhea Law said. “We are grateful to Sen. Collins and Rep. Alvarez for sponsoring our funding request, which would further enhance the sense of community for our students and provide even greater opportunities for them to thrive at USF and beyond.”
USF is home to nearly 1,400 student veterans, one of the largest populations for a state university in Florida. In addition to the 1,384 student-veterans enrolled at USF this academic year, there are 5,341 enrolled students who are dependents of a veteran or someone in the military, bringing USF’s overall military-connected population to 6,725 individuals.
Combined with first responders, it is expected that these upgraded facilities and support services will positively impact more than 8,000 students and employees across USF’s three campuses.
“Tampa Bay is the home of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, major VA hospitals and one of the largest veteran populations in the country. With this legislative priority, our state representatives and USF are demonstrating through actions our continued commitment to serving military-connected students, first responders and our entire region,” said Wayne Taylor, director of USF’s Office of Veteran Success.
The legislative priority builds on USF’s successful “veteran inclusive” approach that recognizes veterans’ experiences and viewpoints and incorporates them into everyday campus life. The approach seeks to create authentic relationships, growth opportunities and a personal touch that mirrors the camaraderie veterans experience during service.
The OVS team also works closely with veteran-affiliated organizations on and off campus, including the Student Veterans Association, an independent, student-run group that collaborates with USF faculty-, staff- and student-focused organizations and builds partnerships within the Tampa Bay region.
“For the military-connected community, finding camaraderie and purpose after leaving service is huge,” said Todd Post, assistant director of OVS. “We provide that, but with additional resources and more welcoming physical spaces, we will be able to create a greater sense of belonging and a more successful transition into higher education for those who have and continue to serve.”
More information on USF’s Office of Veteran Success is available here.