Front and Center with the VFW-SVA Fellowship Program

I’ve written before about why internships, fellowships, and volunteering can be valuable aspects in a career development plan. Today, I’m focusing on a specific fellowship, whose application window is currently open, to illustrate some of the advantages of a fellowship in achieving your career objectives.

The VFW-SVA Fellowship is a joint venture between the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), a Congressionally-chartered non-profit veteran service organization that has been around since 1899, and Student Veterans of America (SVA), a Post-9/11 organization which focuses on veterans in higher education and officially formed in 2008.

Here to talk more about the fellowship is Ken Wiseman. Ken is a Navy veteran who currently serves as Associate Director of VFW’s National Legislative Service. In addition to advocating for veterans on Capitol Hill, Ken manages the VFW-SVA Fellowship program.

1) How did the VFW-SVA Fellowship get started?

In 2015 there was a discussion about how VFW could expose more veterans to what we do during our National Legislative Conference, an annual week-long conference where more than 500 VFW members come to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of veterans, service members, and their families. The idea of reaching out to veterans in college and having them join us during this event was the solution. By immersing the 10 selected veterans into the process of policy formulation, legislative advocacy, and the general efforts of the VFW on Capitol Hill, the idea was that we would show a side of the organization that too many either don’t know exists or, if they do know, don’t understand. VFW has partnered with SVA since it came into being and partnering with them on this project seemed like a natural fit.

 2) What is the goal of the VFW-SVA Fellowship?

Those selected are challenged to find a specific issue related to laws and policies that face the military and veterans. The Fellows develop their research in an academic fashion and propose a solution to the issue. But this is more than just another paper you write in college or a week of sightseeing in D.C. This is a Fellowship that gives you real experience and that realism is what we sought. The Fellows take their policy and advocate for their elected representatives to make the change needed. They take meetings with members of Congress and sit in the front row while the VFW delivers one of its many Congressional testimonies. This program takes those who want to make real change and it gives them the opportunity to do so.

3) What is the application process for the fellowship and what are you looking for in a candidate?

While the application is not a hard process, just a few questions, what is not there surprises many. We don’t look for resumes and we don’t ask for references. Instead, applicants will submit an essay explaining the policy area and specific issues they want to address. We know that those studying political science and government may seem like a natural fit and many fellowship programs are for undergraduates, but this is a program that takes students from every background. We have had chemistry majors, Ph.D. candidates, theology majors, and law school students. It’s the passion and the effort that we look for when selecting fellows. So, applicants should choose an issue, be concise in their approach, and make a recommendation for a solution. That determination and ability to present their case as being a compelling issue to address is what will make them stand out.

4) What does the fellowship entail?

It is a semester in length and starts in late November, once selection is complete. Applicants selected to be fellow will take the essay they sent in with their application and, working with a staff mentor who specializes in their policy area, will build this essay into a policy proposal that is 3-5 pages in length. They will spend a week with the VFW and SVA in Washington, D.C., advocating for their proposal as part of the legislative agenda that the VFW presents to Congress for the year. Additionally, they will work from home as need to also promote their proposal at the state and local level. There are goals and deadlines to help ensure fellows receive as much experience as possible and all expenses for the week in Washington, D.C., are covered.

5) How can the fellowship help student veterans with their educational and career goals?

Several of our Fellows have received college credit, both graduate and undergraduate, for the program and we work with the Fellows to ensure their schools know the value of the effort required. Professionally speaking, several of our Fellows have used this program on their resume and now work on Capitol Hill, for the VFW and other veterans’ organizations, and for VA. Considering three of our past Fellows have actually seen their policy proposals become law, this is a program that is second to none!

Applications for the fellowship are due Oct 20, 2017.

You can find out more details about the fellowship and submit your application at:

© 2017 – 2019, Sarah Maples LLC. All rights reserved.

Sarah Maples is a former Air Force intelligence officer and an Afghanistan veteran. She is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in veteran, military, and defense topics.

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