Student veteran Mark Minton ’23 speaks about the future of the program house.

Program house dedicated to student veterans planned for fall

A residential program house dedicated to student veterans will open this fall near West Campus, providing a much-needed space for Cornell’s growing veteran population to find community, resources and support.

The house – the result of a robust partnership with the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association (CUVA) – will likely accommodate around a dozen student veterans as residents, with room for future growth, in addition to providing common space for gatherings, social events, guest programs, meals and more for the broader student veteran community.

“Increasing the number of undergraduate and graduate students who have served in the military is an important goal of the institution and a crucial part of student diversity and a reflection of Cornell’s ‘any person’ ethos,” said Provost Michael Kotlikoff. “I am pleased that our efforts have had successful results these past few years, and a dedicated program house for this valued and broad campus population will further support and enrich the Cornell experience for our student veterans and others with military connections.”

Seamus Murphy ’17, left, co-founder of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association, and Mark Minton ’23, CUVA’s current vice president, stand in front of 625 University Ave., a university-managed property that will become a program house for undergraduate student veterans this fall.

Kotlikoff and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, have been working for several years to strengthen university support and advocacy for student veterans, particularly undergraduates.

More than 200 military veterans are currently enrolled at Cornell; about 70 of those are undergraduate students. The number of enrolled student veterans has been increasing, and this past fall’s incoming cohort of 33 undergraduate veterans was the largest in more than four decades.

This growth is largely the result of a 2017 directive by Kotlikoff to increase veteran undergraduate enrollment, as well as support for those students. Additionally, in 2019, to bolster advocacy for student veterans, Cornell named retired Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Mary Fisk as the university’s first full-time student veteran adviser and program manager.

“We see this as an extension of our commitment to support our student veterans,” Lombardi said. “It fits naturally into our program house framework here at Cornell, which is long and storied, with a number of different thematic and identity-based program houses.”

The drive to dedicate affordable housing for student veterans began as a grassroots campaign by CUVA and its alumni (who recently launched the Cornell Military Network), said Roland Molina ’22, CUVA’s current president.

Since the organization’s founding in 2015, “establishing a living space for veterans – not merely another stone memorial but a physical space on campus – such as a resource center and permanent dedicated, affordable housing have been priorities for CUVA,” Molina said.

The initiative’s many supporters also included alumni, University Assembly members, and other friends of Cornell and military veterans.

“Through many late-night meetings over Zoom and countless revisions to our proposal, the executive board and CUVA members coalesced around a common theme,” said Mark Minton ’23, CUVA vice president. “Cornell needed a place for veterans to gather, socialize, study, exchange ideas and grow together as a community. While affordable and dedicated housing remained our priority, it quickly became apparent the location … would also function as a beacon for all members of the military-affiliated community on campus.”

Molina thanked Kotlikoff and Lombardi for their support for student veterans and dedication to growing, and actively supporting, the student veteran population. “It has inspired individuals who otherwise may not have thought themselves capable of performing in such a demanding academic environment to take on the challenge and thrive,” Molina said.

CUVA co-founder Seamus Murphy ’17 praised CUVA’s and the university’s ongoing work. “Military-affiliated programmatic housing is a student- and alumni-led effort supported by faculty and administrators,” he said. “This team of dedicated Cornellians has diligently pursued this endeavor since 2015. I look forward to supporting this initiative as Cornell becomes a leader in empowering veterans at Ivy-Plus institutions.”

The property, at 625 University Ave., is a Cornell-managed building currently being used as a small residence hall just downhill from Alice Cook House. Lombardi said that the size of the house is about right for the university and CUVA’s best estimates for how many undergraduates might want to live at the property.

Nearly all student veterans at Cornell are “non-traditional students” simply by age and life experience, Lombardi said. Most of them wouldn’t be interested in a traditional residence hall setup; offering one more housing option in addition to off-campus living rounds out the support and assistance Cornell can provide and can serve as a home base of sorts even for those living elsewhere on and off campus.

The program house is expected to be open for student veterans by fall 2021 – though it will likely be ready in the summer, and Lombardi said some of the accepted student veterans who will be participating in Cornell’s popular Veterans Summer Bridge Program could begin living there and then remain for the academic year.

The house will serve as a space for veterans, active duty service members, ROTC students, reservists, National Guard members and Cornell military faculty, staff and alumni, as well as the local veteran community.

“Be it hosting a speaker series, a Veterans Day luncheon or just a quiet place to enjoy a cup of coffee between classes with others who share in mutual service to our nation,” Minton said, “this veterans program house will create a space for all to join together in a professional educational environment.”

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Abby Butler