by Amy Vaerewyck
After nearly a decade in the Navy, Kami Fluetsch thought transitioning to college would be tough. She didn’t know about the CU Denver Boots to Suits program, which launched in February to support student veterans in the move from classroom to career.
“I had no idea that CU Denver has this wonderful veteran-friendly atmosphere,” said Fluetsch, an International Studies major with plans to go into the medical field. “That helped me tremendously, so I didn’t really have a tough transition.”
Boots to Suits helps students get mentors, internships, jobs and business attire. Forty students participated in Boots to Suits during the spring 2012 semester, and now, the program is launching its second year with plans to match 100 students with mentors. They’ve already matched 30.
In a special “Boots to Suits Salute” event on Oct. 4, university administrators and staff from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce came together with students and their business mentors to celebrate a successful first year.
“For a first-year program, we’ve made a huge impact on the individuals involved,” said Leanna Clark, vice chancellor of University Communications. “Both the business community and the students have completely embraced this program. The enthusiasm is palpable.”
A Road Map for Success
“I still remember how hard it was when I exited the military in 1972,” said Bill Lindsay, president of Lockton Companies’ Denver benefit office and a Boots to Suits mentor. “What do you do in a job interview? How do you dress? I was really lost.”
Forty years later, student veteran Sean Sullivan had similar feelings.
“I was hitting every job fair I could find and getting nowhere,” said Sullivan, who completed his bachelor’s degree in Communication
in summer of this year. “Then, [Director of Veteran Student Services
] Cameron Cook said, ‘Come out [to the Boots to Suits program launch],’ and then, all kinds of doors opened.”
Sullivan was matched with mentor Tim Wieland, news director for CBS4. He spent the semester learning the ropes of news and sports media and now works as an assistant editor for High Noon Productions.
“My transition from the military to college was difficult,” Sullivan said. But his transition from college to career was smoothed by Boot to Suits. “Boots to Suits gave me a road map for my future.”
A Skill Set for Business
Fluetsch was a Boots to Suits mentee at MillerCoors. At first, she wasn’t certain how the experience would help her toward her goal of a career in health care, but she kept an open mind and ended up loving it. She gained valuable connections and learned about other opportunities available to her in a variety of fields.
“I got more [out of Boots to Suits] than I’d ever hoped for,” she said. And the students aren’t the only ones who get something out of the relationship.
“People love the idea of doing something to help vets,” Clark said, “and this is something tangible they can do.”
Not only do the mentors get to do a good deed, but they get to work with outstanding individuals.
“I was so impressed with Kami, with her breadth of experience and her dedication,” said Al Timothy, a former vice president for MillerCoors who mentored Fluetsch. “She has a great skill set that is transferrable to the business world.”
“The CU Denver Boots to Suits program is setting a new standard for institutions of higher education. We are committed not only to educating our military-related students, but also to assisting their transition into the workforce.” – Cameron Cook, director of Veteran Student Services
A Military-friendly Campus
Cameron Cook knows by name many of the 900 student veterans at CU Denver. He sends them near-daily emails and text messages, encouraging them to participate not only in the Boots to Suits program, but also in a range of programs and services to support student veterans.
“CU Denver is a prime example of what is working [for student veterans],” said Izzy Abbass, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1, who gave the keynote address at the October Boots to Suits “Salute” event.
Public Relations Specialist Holli Keyser and several of her colleagues from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce also attended the celebratory event, as the Chamber partners with CU Denver’s Boots to Suits program.
“The Denver Metro Chamber is proud to be part of this important program, as we know these student veterans are the future of our workforce,” Keyser said.
The Boots to Suits mentors feel pride, too.
“These men and women have given our country a gift,” Lindsay said. “We have to return that gift and help them in this very difficult transition.”