In August, 2013, the Obama Administration issued an initiative entitled "The 8 Keys to Veterans' Success,” a list of conceptual guidelines designed to foster veterans’ academic achievement. The initiative proved an ostensible success; by the time of its announcement, 250 universities and community colleges had committed to implementing it. To veteran and educator Dave Cass, however, much more would have to be done for student veterans to receive the support they needed.
Based on his experience writing curriculum to ease veterans back into traditional academia, Cass said the 8 Keys, while constructive, lacked concrete ways for institutions to aid veterans. “I felt the initiative fell short of explaining how a school can support student veterans and not just say ‘we support student veterans,’” he explained.
Inspired to fill that void, Cass founded Uvize, an online veterans center for colleges and universities. The platform, Cass said, has two missions: 1) to provide instruction that trains veterans to transition more efficiently, and 2) to organize student veteran communities to facilitate mentorship and peer support between veterans.
To fulfill the former, the Boulder-based service offers online classes focusing on transitional strategies for student veterans before they enroll in school. As students shift from the hyperstructured environment of the military to the relative autonomy of college, Cass said, it’s imperative for them to have regular guidance. Accordingly, the curriculum covers changes in learning environment, mindset, time management, and academic skills such as studying, test-taking, writing, and using technology. (For an example of how academic skills and expectations differ between the military and college, see this video on the discipline of writing.)
Mentorship, however, is the crux of the platform. As they calibrate their skill sets, student veterans are more likely to succeed with the support of an empathetic community. Students can seek an individual mentor by searching Uvize’s mentor database to connect with someone experienced in their desired field (this consists of participating students, faculty, graduate students, alumni, and individuals invited by the school). When the conventional one-on-one configuration doesn’t apply, students can join study or social groups, which host events and discussions. Finally, Uvize’s advice library allows students to pose questions to their mentors and peers.
“Here is a typical type of use of Uvize: A student veteran declares she is pre-law; that student gets matched with a current law student at her school and it turns out there are five law students, 25 upperclass pre-law students, and a pre-law advisor who are also veterans and they are available for questions. The student now has a mentor, a peer team, and an advisor at her disposal. As this student moves up in school, she will act as a mentor to those following in her footsteps,” Cass said.
Uvize has been adopted by 12 universities, including Duke, the University of Massachusetts system, and John Carroll University. The platform charges participating colleges a membership fee, which allows it to give students free access and maintains its independence from advertising. Cass is finalizing a partnership with Student Veterans of America and is seeking more partnerships, trusting the universities haven’t “displayed unethical or predatory practices toward military students.”
Currently, the five-person company — which graduated from Techstars in 2013 and has raised approximately $600,000 in funding — is expanding its outreach. “We're launching a global student veteran community, and we are also providing our platform to non-higher ed organizations, too. For example, we're working with two veterans entrepreneurship organizations: The Bunker in Chicago and Techstars Patriot Boot Camp,” Cass said.
As Uvize becomes more visible, Cass hopes to help increasing numbers of intelligent, focused, and disciplined veterans excel in a new learning environment. But while his approach is complex, his mentality is simple and steadfast: “If you prep the student for the change, polish up some skills, they'll be more successful.”