How the SVA Leadership Institute Series Helped Me Develop My Leadership Skills
Student Veterans of America | October 17, 2016
Written by: Maureen Elias, Bowie State University, Student Veterans of America Chapter President.


When I first began school at Bowie State University, I had not done much to develop my leadership skills, since my time in the service ten years ago. After years of being a stay at home mom, focused on the needs of my three children, my leadership skills were pretty rusty. However, after attending the SVA Leadership Summit and then the Leadership Institute, my rusty skills have been gently cleansed and well-oiled.

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Maureen Elias seen here presenting her chapter business plan at the SVA Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. 

When I worked on my undergraduate degree at Campbell University, I was rarely on campus. In fact, graduation practice was essentially the first time I set foot on the main campus because I attended a satellite campus. I simply went to school, then rushed home to my young children. My friends joked that I was the campus ghost. However, as I am now working on my master's degree at Bowie State University, I find myself stepping more and more into leadership roles.

At the beginning I was hesitant to accept any leadership roles, because I felt like had little experience in an academic setting. I decided to start small, as the secretary of the Student Veterans Association in October 2015. Two months later, I found myself in the role of president, stumbling along through the end of the school year. That summer, our faculty advisor, directed me to the Student Veterans of America website.


I went through the simple process of applying to become an SVA chapter and was delighted when we were accepted. If I had known all SVA would do for me before I applied that summer, I would have applied the day I became president. Two weeks after being accepted, I found myself at Google Headquarters in Washington, DC for the SVA Leadership Summit learning the ins and outs of creating a business plan.

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Maureen Elias working with Eric Gage, SVA's Director of Chapter Services on a chapter business plan
at the SVA Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. 

As a mental health counseling student, working on a business plan was something completely foreign to me. Eric Gage, SVA's Director of Chapter Services and Sybil Strimbu, a Legal Specialist at Google, provided me with guidance while I struggled to create a mission statement and business plan. By the end of the weekend, I walked away with a strong, new mission for my Student Veterans Association and the logistics and planning to back up that mission. Even after the Leadership Summit, I continued to struggle with feelings of unworthiness and inexperience as a leader in an academic setting. That is where the SVA Leadership Institute came to change my perspective. I was honored to be chosen as one of the 100 student veterans to attend the Leadership Institute in Dallas. At the institute, I learned from some of the top leaders at Raytheon about skills such as building my personal brand, how to lead civilians, communication skills, leading when you're not in charge, connecting with one another, building and maintaining membership, event planning, fundraising, collaboration, and so much more.


Attending these two training events gave me the skills and confidence to begin transforming my Student Veterans Association. We've seen membership almost double since the beginning this year. We have reached out to the campus and begun working on advocating for veterans needs, working on items such as getting students and faculty with military service special ID cards at school and a military discount at the book store.

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Maureen Elias seen here graduating from the SVA Leadership Institute in Dallas, Texas, hosted by Raytheon.

We just finished our first veteran social networking event bringing community veterans onto the campus to begin building relationships with student veterans. The skills I learned at the SVA Leadership Institute Series also helped me to use a social event to connect with former students at my university who will now be forming an alumni chapter of SVA. I cannot thank the great leaders at Student Veterans of America enough for all they have done and will do to develop my skills as a leader and set me up for success after success!


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