PROVE: Empowering Student Veterans
After service, some veterans are hesitant about going back to college. In addition, for those veterans who do return to campus, some have challenges that their civilian counterparts do not – challenges that can make academic success difficult. At the same time, studies show that having veteran support services on college campuses improves the odds of keeping them enrolled and improving their academic performance overall.
New York City-based Project for Return and Opportunity in Veterans Education (PROVE), whose work is supported by NFL-BWF Salute to Service funding, works with those who have served and who are pursuing higher education. PROVE creates an environment in which student veterans can more easily access the resources they need to successfully transition from military to student life on nine CUNY campuses, and most recently, expanding to Fordham University. Leora Shudofsky is the director and coordinator of PROVE and a social worker at Hunter College. In a recent conversation with Shudofsky, she explained how the program works, and shared its successes and aspirations.
A Transformative Approach to Academic Success
PROVE’s support team includes social work interns, student veteran mentors, and experienced field instructors who work together to provide needed assistance and mentorship. These interns help veterans complete tasks that are critical to their success: staying on top of course work, meet deadlines, plan a study schedule, complete applications for work or graduate school, and manage ongoing military related responsibilities if applicable.
Shudofsky emphasizes the significance of the PROVE teams’ contributions, stating, “Sometimes the interns give that extra push to get [the student’s] applications or Pact Act completed on time… they provide resources and guidance that the veteran may not be ready to take at that point. It’s tough love and it works.”
With 16 years of service to its name, PROVE’s success stories highlight the organization’s effectiveness. “We’re fortunate to have over a decade of wonderful stories to see how PROVE can have lasting impacts on our student veterans,” Shudofsky proudly shares. These stories highlight the positive outcomes for veterans and the program’s lasting contribution to veterans’ educational and personal journeys.
Vision for Sustainable Growth and National Outreach
An important aspect of PROVE’s model is its ability to transform beneficiaries into contributors. Some student veterans who have succeeded because of PROVE have chosen to give back by becoming interns themselves. They in turn help incoming student veterans, creating a sustainable cycle of assistance that characterizes the PROVE community.
As an example, when a Navy veteran returned to school as an undergraduate, she received support from PROVE. When she decided to pursue a master’s degree, PROVE helped throughout the application process. The student was accepted at all the schools where she applied: New York University, Fordham University, Columbia University, and Hunter College. The student chose Hunter College for graduate school, where she also became a PROVE intern and from which she graduated from the school of social work.
Another student, also a Navy veteran, was a computer science major at City University of New York and a beneficiary of PROVE’s services. Not only did the program help him transition back into civilian life and adjust to school, but the program had a lasting impact on his career trajectory. Today, he conducts research and data collection for the program and has worked for PROVE for the past seven years.
PROVE makes a difference in student veterans’ lives. Even though PROVE relies on funding to keep it from being just a temporary program, their accomplishments are helping them be well on their way to remain permeant. Shudofsky shares that “the goal for this program is to be sustainable and continue to grow. We serve so many student veterans and have a history of measurable success. However, we want to be a permanent program on the campuses where we work to help student veterans to continue the success we’ve had.”
In addition, PROVE’s recent achievements have solidified its reputation as a valuable resource for student veterans. In 2023, the program was honored with the VA’s Veteran’s Experience Office Community Catalyst Award Additionally, PROVE’s reach has extended beyond the City University of New York system to include Fordham University. With a goal to further expand beyond New York City, PROVE is working to reach underserved veteran communities across the US, including South Dakota.
There is no denying that Project for Return and Opportunity in Veterans Education helps student veterans in New York City colleges succeed. For veterans who are thinking about returning to college or are enrolled in City University of New York or Fordham University, they can be assured to find PROVE on their campuses who are there with them every step of the way towards academic success.