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Student veterans Jake Sawtelle ’21 and Brendan O’Hara ’21 have been selected to attend the Student Veterans of America Leadership Institute at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. This honor is annually extended to 104 of the best chapter leaders of SVA, a nonprofit coalition of student veteran groups on college campuses throughout the world.

"Student Veterans of America is the number one veteran advocacy program for students in higher education," O'Hara explained. "They put on a bunch of different programs for advocacy and networking."

Sawtelle and O’Hara will travel to D.C. on Sept. 20 for the three-day leadership immersion program, where they will receive mentorship and meet with guest speakers from top positions in government, higher education, veteran organizations, and business. The goal of the Institute is to prepare high-achieving student veterans to engage with their communities and lead effectively through an increased understanding of their personal values. 

Graduates of the Institute also gain ongoing support from a network of mentors and student veterans during the rest of their academic life and the beginning of their careers.

SVA Chapter leaders are selected to attend the Institute based on personal characteristics including a propensity for learning and a collaborative mentality. This year’s cohort is the most diverse in the Institute’s seven-year history: thirty percent are women, compared to twenty-six percent of all student veterans, and sixteen percent in the U.S. Armed Forces. It is also the most academically successful, representing fields from business to astrophysics.  

Sawtelle, from Lincoln, Nebraska, is a potential politics major and an army Explosive Ordinance Disposal veteran. 

O’Hara, a Navy veteran from Somers Point, New Jersey, is also a prospective politics major. 

Sawtelle and O'Hara learned about the program from Keith Shaw, the University's Director of Transfer, Veteran, and Non-Traditional Student Programs. To apply, they submitted resumes, essays, and a one-minute video about their military and college experience.

Both Sawtelle and O’Hara have been involved in veteran advocacy work, including working with three other undergraduate veterans to create the University's SVA chapter last year. Through this volunteer organization, they perform community service off-campus and hope to create a resource for future generations of veterans at the University. 

The University's chapter had both a service and a social function, helping veteran students to connect on campus, O'Hara explained.

"We created it to continue the whole brotherhood thing," Sawtelle said. "You still have a unit, you can also serve and help your community and have more of a purpose."

This year, the SVA chapter includes six new transfer students, bringing the total group's membership up to eleven, O'Hara said. 

Last year, Sawtelle also represented the University at a conference for Service to School, an organization that helps veterans apply to higher education programs and transition from military to university life.  

"It was for people who hadn't applied to college yet or hadn't applied to transfer yet," Sawtelle explained. "I sat on a panel and answered questions about getting into Princeton." 

O'Hara added that his goal for his experience at the Institute is to learn as much as he can.

"I know they have leaders in both major parties coming to speak, they have large business partners like Prudential there to offer advice and help you establish yourself as a leader going forward," he said. 

Sawtelle and O'Hara both hope to implement lessons from the Institute into their work with SVA and other campus organizations that they are a part of, such as the rugby and wrestling teams. 

The ‘Prince’ will continue coverage of Sawtelle and O’Hara’s experience.  

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