During a special event Wednesday in Mountain America Stadium, state representatives recognized a renowned Arizona State University center responsible for helping thousands of military-affiliated students achieve their educational goals since 2011.
Arizona Rep. Lorena Austin read a proclamation to gathered university deans, staff, government officials, veterans, business leaders and guests, establishing Aug. 16 as “ASU Pat Tillman Veterans Center Day” across Arizona.
The proclamation was endorsed by the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives Ben Toma, Legislative District 27; Rep. Cesar Aguilar, Legislative District 26; Rep. Austin, Legislative District 9; and Rep. Stacey Travers, Legislative District 12.
“All our veterans, all the student workers, really define what the vision of the center is about that bears the greatest legacy we’ve seen in the state,” Austin said. “I know it because I see it practiced often, and it’s about family and service.
“And what I mean about family is being part of a community only they can understand. A community that embraces all that it means to be a veteran, or what it means to be part of a veteran’s life as a family member. And that comes with good, and I’m sure it’s sometimes difficult, but the encouragement and willingness to uplift and support one another at all costs is what this center is about.”
Austin graduated from ASU and was part of the Public Service Academy Next Generation Service Corps within the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
One of the most significant challenges veterans face when leaving the service is transitioning back to being a civilian again, said Travers, an Army veteran.
“How do you get yourself back to civilian life when you’ve lost that sense of purpose, and you’re not sure where to find meaning?” Travers said. “We in the military have a very unique and nuanced shared experience that very few can understand. So to have that resource available … means a huge part of our community can now help make that transition from military life into a civilian life, and feel like it’s OK that they can do it, that they’re not lost, and that they’re not isolated.”
Alumna Marisa Von Holten turned to the Pat Tillman Veterans Center after leaving the active duty Air Force in 2016. Working in the center as part of the outreach team under a work-study program, she found camaraderie, mentors and a support system that gave her an enriching and rewarding college experience.
“Finding that camaraderie that I missed really got me through my time in college, and also made it really enjoyable,” Von Holten said. “Our service for better or worse, shapes so much of who we become. And the Pat Tillman Veterans Center really recognized that. Not only do they recognize it, but they really harness it and use it to propel us forward.”
Von Holten graduated from ASU in 2020 with a bachelor's degree in public service and public policy (emergency management and homeland security). She currently serves as an emergency management coordinator with Maricopa County.
Pat Tillman Veterans Center Executive Director Shawn Banzhaf became the center leader in November. He sees the state recognition as an important aspect of helping the organization move forward.
“This is the beginning of the future for the Pat Tillman Veterans Center,” he said.
Despite the center's success transitioning veterans into college life, through graduation and on to new careers, challenges remain within some of the veteran population nationally.
“The 22 veterans that take their own lives every day, we have a chance at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, with your help, to drop that number,” Banzhaf said to supporters in the room. “I want to make a change and difference in the lives of student veterans. I want to help enrich them, and I just ask you to partner with us.”
Named in memory of legendary Sun Devil and Arizona Cardinals football star Pat Tillman, the center opened Aug. 16, 2011, then supporting 1,978 student veterans. Today the center cares for more than 15,000 military-affiliated students — including veterans, service members on active duty stationed around the globe, members of the National Guard and Reserves and military family dependents using Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits.
The center has been the force behind ASU earning various accolades throughout the years, including being named Best for Vets by the Military Times Publishing Group, and earning consecutive designations as one of the nation’s Military Friendly Schools from Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs and Military Spouse publications. This month, Victory Media confirmed ASU once again earned its highest rating under the category of “Gold Status” Military Friendly Schools.