A Tradition of Honoring Veterans at Saint Joseph's
Friday, November 11, 2016
by Ralph Galati '70 (USAF), Director of the Office of Veterans Services
A full color guard, a proud display of American and U.S. military flags, and dozens of representatives from veterans’ groups, civic organizations and the Saint Joseph’s University student body gathered in the morning hours of Sunday, October 30. They lined the entrance to Mandeville Hall, the home of the Saint Joseph’s Haub School of Business, ready to greet a unique group of servicemen and women — 22 veterans eager to start their own businesses.
These veterans were members of the 2016 cohort for Saint Joseph’s Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart (VEJ) program, a three-part training program that consists of online coursework, a residency week of panels, seminars and lectures, and yearlong mentorships.
They didn't know about the welcome event. As they arrived, some from states across the country, reactions to the ceremony ranged from shock to appreciation to tears. As I observed their surprise, I thought about how perhaps one closer to SJU would not have been. Providing a welcoming environment for veterans is part of Saint Joseph’s culture — and a longstanding tradition that dates back more than 150 years.
Since the early 20th century, Saint Joseph’s has proudly educated and supported our nation’s veterans and servicemen and women, with a record of alumni service dating back as far as the Civil War.
In 1919, the U.S. government designated what was then the Saint Joseph’s College campus as a Students’ Army Training Corps (SATC) site. In proportion to its size, Saint Joseph’s furnished more men for SATC than any other college or institution in Pennsylvania at the time
During the World War II era, the college developed an accelerated academic program to help students finish their degree program before entering the service and added physical education classes to help them prepare for the military. In 1946, the Saint Joseph’s evening education program had 300 students enrolled, 60 percent of which were in active military service or veterans.
In 1950, the SJU Air Force ROTC program was founded, followed by a campus veterans’ organization in 1972.
Fast forward to 2014, when I was brought on to help formalize the Office of Veterans Services at SJU. Soon after its founding, the work of our office, which builds on the efforts of the entire University to include and support veterans, received widespread recognition. The University was dubbed “Veteran Friendly” by Military.Com (2015, 2016); “Best for Vets” by Military Times (2016, 2017); and a “Purple Heart University” by Military Order of the Purple Heart (2015). A Yellow Ribbon school with 10 percent participation, SJU was named the No. 2 Northern college in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges for Veterans” (2015).
In 2015, when we began creating the VEJ program at SJU, our dream was to provide training to a dozen or so veterans from our Mid-Atlantic region — to give them a "jumpstart" to owning a business. The response has been more tremendous than we envisioned. We have hosted veterans from 14 states, representing all five of the military service branches, and ranging in experience and age from 26 to 82. We have worked with married couples and teams, and a wide array of business platforms — from manufacturing to consulting, from government contracting to nonprofits. It is an amazing amalgam of talent and experience, coming together on Hawk Hill as a small business cohort.
Once word got out that Saint Joseph’s was offering an entrepreneurship program for veterans, we began to see the spirit of our SJU tradition spread like wildfire. Organizations like the Entrepreneurs Organization, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and local SCORE chapters helped us to develop the curriculum, while regional entrepreneurs, small business owners, civic leaders and veterans’ organizations offered their services as well as lecturers and panelists. Over 100 hours of pro-bono advice and mentorships, not to mention in-kind goods and services and donations have been extended to our veterans to help them start and successfully run their business ventures. In all, our VEJ program provides an invaluable education, at no cost to our veterans, thanks to the commitment of Saint Joseph’s and our partners, donors and supporters.
I am proud that our Saint Joseph’s tradition is not just enduring, but growing and spreading.
About the author: Ralph Galati received his Bachelor of Science degree from Saint Joseph’s University in 1970 and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. As a member of the Air Force ROTC, he was a Distinguished Military Graduate, President of the Arnold Air Society, and recipient of the Saint Joseph’s University Dean’s Award. Ralph attended USAF Flight Training in 1970, and received his Wings in 1971. He was a Weapon Systems Officer in the F-4 Phantom aircraft, and was assigned to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand in the fall of 1971. On February 16, 1972 he and his pilot were shot-down over North Vietnam and were immediately captured and taken to Hanoi. He spent the next 14 months as a Prisoner of War. Ralph was repatriated on March 28, 1973.
As Director of Veterans Services, Ralph is coordinating campus-wide programs for veterans, spouses, dependents and survivors. The office has also designed two Entrepreneurship Programs for Veterans who want to start their own business. Ralph can be reached at 610-660-3263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.