Serving Country, Community and Your Future
A desire to serve has been the common thread in Madeline Burkemper's life, from her four years in the U.S. Navy to her nursing aspirations as a student at Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.
Now a military veteran, Burkemper served in the U.S. Navy from 2015-2019 before she enrolled at GSON. She will graduate in December with her BSN.
"Since I was a young kid, I always knew I wanted to go to nursing school but I also knew a good start to my life would be to join the military first," she says. "I wanted to serve my country first in the Navy to get life experience and then serve others in the community as a nurse. The military helped me build maturity to prepare to become a nurse."
As a result, Burkemper says it was a smooth transition from the military to Goldfarb. Today, she ties her military service and nursing school experience together as president of the GSON student club Veterans and Supporters Together, or VaST.
The club's mission is to support active duty, reserve, and veteran students, as well as military spouses, family and friends. The club also serves veterans in the community.
"I was looking forward to being involved in college so I started looking at student clubs at Goldfarb," Burkemper says. "When I read about VaST, I jumped at the opportunity to join. It has been so rewarding."
As the only current veteran in VaST, she emphasizes that the club is not just for veterans. "Most people involved in VaST are supporters of the military and have spouses or other family members in the military. Anyone who wants to support our veterans can join us."
Phillip Campbell, GSON director of student support and engagement, adds that even GSON faculty are involved in VaST. "Some of our faculty and staff are veterans or have military connections. This gives students more internal mentors or connection points to share information or resources."
The VaST Benefits of Belonging
Being part of a student club like VaST offers many benefits, Burkemper explains. "When you apply for jobs, being in a club shows you are active and involved and you want to make a difference in your community. It will help you stand out from other candidates. And I believe being active in the community rounds you out to be a better person."
Studies back up the benefits of being involved, Campbell says. "Students who feel more connected to each other and have a sense of belonging tend to thrive and perform better in the classroom," he says. "They also have stronger networks for their careers. Student clubs allow students to gain skills, find community and build confidence that will benefit them in their professional roles after GSON."
VaST holds various activities throughout each semester. Even the pandemic in 2020 didn't slow the club down. "The things we accomplished online were amazing," Burkemper says.
Over the past two years, students have planned numerous events, including a Veteran's Day breakfast and raffle baskets to support the cost of sending care packages to military members in Afghanistan.
In the spring of 2021, VaST held a Black History Month presentation in collaboration with the GSON Students Promoting Diversity (SPD) Club to recognize influential African American service members. They also sold GSON R.E.D. t-shirts to wear on Fridays to Remember Everyone Deployed (R.E.D), among other efforts.
Last summer, students held a fundraiser for Dogs for Our Brave to support training of service dogs for local injured veterans. The group also wrote gratitude letters to service members.
One impactful event that stands out to Burkemper was a webinar about post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) during PTSD Awareness Month in June.
"One of the presenters was a friend who lost her son to suicide after he served in the military," she says. "It's nice to know we may have helped someone else suffering from PTSD or helped someone recognize the warning signs. I'm very proud to be part of VaST."
Burkemper is grateful for the consistent GSON student support for VaST activities. "Students show up and respond well for our events."
Making it More Accessible to Participate
In the fall of 2021, all student clubs combined to support each other. "Individual clubs sponsor events but being combined allows us to help each other more during this time when so much is online," Burkemper explains.
She explains that COVID made it more difficult for some students to actively participate in a club while also taking challenging online classes.
"Some students felt they couldn't take on another responsibility due to their online classes. But I tell students don't be afraid of joining a club. We have multiple people involved to help each other out so it's not too much responsibility. Nursing school can be super busy. That's why these clubs can be worked around your life. Every time I've asked for help with an event, people have responded."
Burkemper's goal is to plan four accessible events each semester so students have more opportunities to gain credits toward their graduation cords. Credits for attending events cross all clubs.
For Veteran's Day, VaST is collecting items for care packages to send to military members deployed overseas.
Veteran's Day is a day of reflection for Burkemper, who says she doesn't seek attention or thanks for being a veteran. "I'm honored to have been part of the military and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to serve my country."
To learn more about joining VaST, contact Malou Jaime at [email protected]
Find VaST on Facebook or on Twitter @GSONVaST.