Five questions with Jathan Chicoine

Jathan Chicoine

Veterans services coordinator Jathan Chicoine and his dog, Jack Gdeshka ("Spot"), whom Chicoine rescued from Afghanistan in 2011, following a year working as a civilian contractor providing security for U.S. and Canadian forces. "We know dogs help veterans, but even in country, it's amazing how dogs connect with soldiers," Chicoine said. "I sometimes wonder who rescued who? He was really important in my life." Photo by Bob Elbert.

One of the recommendations of a military student task force appointed in 2010 by vice president for student affairs Tom Hill was to create a position to coordinate support services for student veterans and military students. Last May, Gilbert High alumnus Jathan Chicoine ("Shi-KWIN") arrived on campus as the university's first veterans services coordinator. The Veterans Center is in 3578 Memorial Union.

The basics:

  • Name: Jathan Chicoine
  • Position: Veterans Services Coordinator
  • Military experience: U.S. Navy SEAL, 1995-2001
  • Time at ISU: Eight months
  • Education: Bachelor's in cultural anthropology and international studies (2006); master's in interdisciplinary studies (2009), University of South Dakota, Vermillion

How large is Iowa State's student veteran population?

This semester, we know of 621 veterans, military personnel and family members at ISU. Of that group, approximately 560 are receiving military education benefits as certified with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 150 of the 560 students are family members receiving benefits through a loved one who has served or is serving.

However, the total number is most likely higher. Unless veterans or military personnel self-identify during the admissions process, we don’t really have a firm number. I’m starting to get a better sense, but it will take time. Our country has the largest number of veterans since World War II and universities are one of the places veterans reintegrate into society, so we expect the numbers to increase.

One might assume you're fond of bureaucratic hurdles?

Any student receiving veterans education benefits works with one of three V.A. certifying officials in the registrar's office (Rebecca Foster, Marcia Jaspering, Judy Willemsen). They certify them on the front end and then the paperwork goes through the V.A., so that’s an essential role. I'm looking for ways to streamline that process, but I don’t get too involved on that side.

Once they arrive on campus, I'm here to help veterans and their family members navigate a large system (Iowa State) – it's that whole idea of returning services to those who have served us. A lot of what I do is connect resources, connect people, help educate faculty and staff. I can serve as an advocate. Sometimes faculty or staff have questions. For example, when a veteran deploys, we need to find solutions to working with them. I can serve as translator and help explain the process.

So, what sorts of services are you working on?

We organized the third annual statewide veterans conference in November and had over 200 participants. One of the most powerful presentations was a panel of student veterans discussing their experiences. We create partnerships, for example, with the women’s center, student counseling center, LGBT center and others. That’s been really good. Veterans cut across all demographics. We’re creating a veteran-to-veteran peer support group, we're working on creating a learning community for student veterans. We’re getting ready to have a retreat (Feb. 1) for the ISU Student Veterans of America Club, which I advise. I'm looking into creating a new student orientation for veterans and their family members.

Sometimes GI benefits may not arrive by the first day of school, which creates cash flow problems for student veterans. We connected with the student-run pantry and did a food drive. We also created the Veterans Community Gratitude Fund, to which anyone can make cash donations to be used in emergencies. The idea is, it’s not a handout. When student veterans are back on their feet, they can put back in the fund, so we continue to grow it.

I’ve said since I was a student veteran: No matter how sophisticated we get in providing services to student veterans and their families, the most important thing we do is provide a safe, comfortable space where they can connect with each other.

What's the faculty/staff role in a good experience for student veterans?

It’s important that we see this as a collaborative effort among all of us. The ways to provide support are as unique as the individuals themselves. No matter what policy or program we put in place, it comes down to having a conversation, being able to empathize. It's about appreciating who that person is, and understanding that some of our veterans carry these incredible experiences that can contribute so much to our classrooms and to our university.

I've met with so many people looking to be a part of returning services to veterans. I’d love to see each college champion a program for veterans, for example entrepreneurship, veterans to farmers, food and national security, or troops to teachers.

Would you have predicted you'd work in veterans services when you left the Navy SEALs?

No. When I left the military (fall 2001), I thought I was done.

But it was extremely challenging to go from a place (U.S. Navy) where I was recognized for my accomplishments and had a sense of duty, to an environment (higher education) that didn’t recognize those accomplishments. I got very involved in veterans affairs as a student veteran [at the University of South Dakota]. It was empowering for me to find a leadership role again -- as president of the vets club, as student body president, as founder of a nonprofit organization that supported veterans and their families.

I feel extremely honored and privileged to serve in this capacity at Iowa State.

Funding for salary increases not apparent in early proposals

In budget recommendations released by Gov. Terry Branstad last week, Iowa State would receive some of the additional state funding it requested for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Branstad's FY14 budget proposal includes for Iowa State:

  • The requested 2.6 percent increase ($4.4 million) to operating funds (general university only; units receiving a direct appropriation, such as the Ag Experiment Station, would be held at current funding)
  • Half of the requested $7.5 million for new initiatives in the bioeconomy
  • A share of $5 million (of the requested $39.5 million for all three regent universities), for a state-funded, need-based financial aid program for resident undergraduates
  • A share (estimated $1.05 million) of the $3 million Regents Innovation Fund to support economic development activities

Not in the governor's FY14 budget proposal is $5 million Iowa State requested last fall to begin planning for a biosciences building.

Tuition revenue less certain

In recent years, tuition revenue growth -- bolstered by rising student enrollments -- has helped offset meager or no state funding increases. In December, the state Board of Regents approved flat tuition rates next fall for resident undergraduates – about 55 percent of Iowa State's total student body – and modest increases ($92 to $462) for nonresident undergrads and all graduate students, which will curtail growth in that revenue stream. Board members have said they'd reduce tuition rates next fall for resident undergraduates if the state financial aid program is funded.

Additional funds for higher education in the governor's budget proposal is encouraging, said Dave Biedenbach, assistant vice president for financial planning and budgets. A key uncertainty at this point is how the university will fund salary increases.

"Salary increases for faculty and staff is a priority," he said, "but given the current revenue and cost projections, it's going to be a challenge to fund salary increases at a level that will keep our salary levels competitive."

It's unlikely that new operating revenues from the state could be used entirely for this purpose, he said, since there are programming needs and unavoidable annual cost increases to be covered. University employees haven't been included in the state salary bill since FY09 and inclusion this year may be a long shot, Biedenbach said.

Tuition dollars, if the projected enrollment for fall continues its upward trend, could provide a funding option. Reallocation of existing budgets – used in past years to partially fund salary increases – may be another option, Biedenbach said.

President Steven Leath also spoke briefly about salary increases during his Jan. 18 monthly gathering with leaders from across the university.

"We're paying a lot of attention to this. It's a huge issue for Iowa State," he said.

Advancing One Community Award recipients announced

Recipients of this year's Advancing One Community Awards will be honored Jan. 24 (4 p.m., Memorial Union Sun Room) during the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Convocation. All are invited to attend.

Since 2006, Iowa State has honored students, groups and faculty or staff members who demonstrate a commitment to King's principles and goals to create an inclusive multicultural community, and to reduce injustice and inequity at Iowa State. Winners receive a $500 stipend and a plaque. This year's recipients are:

  • Student: Arun Sethuraman, a graduate student in the department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has served as president of the Indian Student Association. He promotes an understanding and knowledge of the Indian culture, and has created a support network for Indian students. He also educates members of the Indian community about homophobia and xenophobia.
  • Faculty/staff member: Joel Geske, associate professor, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, is a consistent advocate for community members who identify as LGBT. Through his scholarship, teaching, service and initiatives, he consistently shows a commitment to diversity, inclusion and institutional self-awareness.
  • Group: Alpha Sigma Kappa, a sorority for women in technical studies, encourages young women and girls to consider STEM careers. The organization also has developed a support structure for women in technical fields.
  • Group: Lambda Theta Phi fraternity has worked to improve Iowa State's community for Latino students since its founding in November 2011. The group helped develop the Latino Leadership Retreat and supports Latino Heritage Month activities. The group also is active in community service and voter registration on campus.

Nominations for the 2014 Advancing One Community Award recipients will be accepted later this fall. More information about the awards, including eligibility requirements and past winners, is available online. 

Senate debates changes to annual review policy

More Faculty Handbook changes were debated at the Jan. 22 Faculty Senate meeting, focusing on annual performance evaluation policies (section The faculty development and administrative relations (FDAR) council introduced language that detailed the evaluation process.

"The reason these changes are being made is to have a more consistent review process across the university," FDAR chair Ann Smiley-Oyen said. "The current version has minimal guidance."

The changes include links to post-tenure review policies and "action plan" guidance for faculty who receive unsatisfactory evaluations.

Senators discussed the changes at length, including a proposed amendment that penalizes department chairs who fail to meet review deadlines. The amendment failed (14-41), but senate concerns about the added language sent the proposed changes back to the FDAR council for more work.

"It seems to me it's worth further discussion," senate president Suzanne Hendrich said.

Other business

  • Senators also will vote on bylaw changes that exempt the secretary's term from senate term eligibility limits. President and president-elect positions already are exempted.
  • Senators voted in favor of a name change for the committee on women in minorities, to the committee on equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • Kevin Schalinske, professor in food science and human nutrition, was voted the senate’s next president-elect, running unopposed.

A hint of spring

Reiman Gardens conservatory

Reiman Gardens will preview its "More Than Meets the Iowa" 2013 theme year Jan. 26-27, which includes the "Winds of Change" display in the conservatory (pictured). Sculptures inspired by nature will be featured throughout the gardens, created by artists with Iowa ties. Outdoor displays will begin opening in April.

Youth discovery stations will be operating on Saturday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon-4 p.m.). On Sunday, children will be admitted free, and adult admissions will be donated to the Story County Plant a Row for the Hungry program. As part of the preview weekend, the Reiman Gardens gift shop will feature Iowa products, including free snack samples. Photo by Bob Elbert.