Meet Russ Chavez

in
Interstate Passport Briefing
This is one of 7 articles in the September 2020 newsletter.

Russ Chavez is the Director for Veterans Affairs at South Dakota State University, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Veterans Affairs Resource Center. The center assists military veterans and family members in receiving federal and state educational benefits, and provides guidance and support services to veterans in their transition to academic and civilian life.

Russ also serves as co-chair of the Interstate Passport Military and Veteran Affairs Advisory Committee, which was created after Air University/Community College of the Air Force joined the Interstate Passport Network in 2018. The committee works to ensure that the issues and concerns of military students and veterans at Network member institutions are recognized and addressed. In 2019, Chavez, along with his fellow colleagues, presented on Interstate Passport at the Student Veterans Association Annual Conference.

SDSU is located in Brookings, in the eastern part of the state, approximately 350 miles from Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, and 250 miles from Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska. The state has a number of Army and Air National Guard units throughout the state as well.

The number of military students enrolled at SDSU fluctuates between 300-450 per semester, depending on activities and events affecting the U.S. military overall. The number of military students that earn a degree is roughly 50 per semester. SDSU military students and veterans are primarily from the U.S. Army branch of the military, as well Air Force and Marines.

Russ is ideally suited to direct veterans affairs at SDSU. “Being a veteran and working with and for veterans has always been my passion. My journey has always led me right back to veteran service, from training SDSU cadets in the later years of my military career, to the veterans and family members that I serve today. I truly love helping my brothers and sisters in arms. To me, there is nothing more satisfying.“

Russ noted that the primary challenge for military students is acclimating to civilian life after military service – getting one’s family settled and deciding what job/career to pursue, and the most appropriate degree program. The Veterans Affairs Resource Center assists veterans with all academic issues as well as military benefits and support.

One of the purposes of the Veterans Resource Center is to coordinate programs specifically for veterans, and SDSU has a number of programs throughout the year for military students and their families:

  • Horses for Heroes (weekly Eco Therapy through working with horses, riding, tacking, etc.)  
  • Veterans Writing and Book Club 
  • Veterans Retreat (4 days, 3 nights w/snow mobiles in the Black Hills that includes counseling, Eco Therapy, skiing/snow boarding, and much more), all paid for by funds raised through the veterans golf tournament and donations. 
  • Monthly Job Services Work Shops with Job Services Rep in the Veterans Affairs and Resource Center on campus
  • Speaker Series
  • Annual Golf Tournament
  • Warrior Week, several events during the week leading up to Veterans Day: Hall of Heroes, Taps in recognition of veteran suicides, Movie Night, and laser tag, culminating with the Military Family of the Game at half time of the SDSU football game 
  • Birthday Celebrations for each branch of service
  • Armed Services Association, an SDSU-sanctioned club that provides a place for SDSU veterans/Service members and dependents to gather, help local veterans through community service, serve as an officer within the organization, and be around like-minded students, something that is often lost once service members leaving the military. The association meets twice a month and members decide what they want to do as an organization. 

In addition, each year Veterans Affairs awards five $1,000 scholarships to military students with funds from supporters that we have secured. This year the center secured an additional $5,000 and one of those scholarships will be for a dependent of a service member. 

BIO: Russ Chavez has served as Director for Veterans Affairs or Interim Director since September of 2016. He oversees the day-to-day operations in the Veterans Services office at South Dakota State University. His primary focus is to ensure the smooth and successful transition from military to civilian life for veterans, service members and dependents. Previously he worked as the School Certifying Official, Army ROTC Instructor, and Supply and Logistics Technician – all at SDSU. He served 21 years on active duty for the U.S. Army. Russ received his B.S. in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.

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