VeteransU App Provides Help for Veterans at Syracuse University
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – For years Syracuse University veterans programs have been helping veterans adapt to civilian life by through education and guidance. As Veterans Day approaches, this mission takes on even greater importance, and one student veteran has come up with an app that seeks to aid in helping veterans adjust to everyday university life.
Charles Preuss, 30, is a veteran from Syracuse who fought with the 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team. He now serves as a volunteer for the Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).
As a student, Preuss was looking for a way to help veterans who are transitioning back to the civilian world, and he realized the best way to do that was through a mobile application.
“We will all have to migrate eventually to the technology,” Preuss said. “They can’t stay archaic. And as they migrate, let’s help them.”
With assistance from the IVMF and the Office of Veterans and Military Affairs (OVMA), Preuss was able to do just that.
Building the Best App Possible
Preuss was directed by Ron Novak, the OVMA’s executive director, to Steve Masiclat, the director of new media management at Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Working with Masiclat and a small team of graduate students, Preuss was able to bring the VeteransU app to life.
It took the team only two months to create the app for both iOS and Android. VeteransU allows both veterans and non-veterans to stay connected to events and projects aimed at helping veterans in the area, as well as with each other. It also helps keep them on track through higher education path.
What Preuss was trying to build was important, but what was just as important was with whom who he was building it. He and Masiclat, a veteran of the Marine Corps himself, wanted their team to be just as invested in VeteransU as they were.
“The fit we were looking for was that the team share the same vision of what the app is supposed to do to end information anxiety,” Preuss said. “If they didn’t share the vision, we didn’t have a team. We selected the coders not only for technical ability but also for willingness to be part of a larger cause.”
Fortunately for Preuss, the students who worked on the development of VeteransU, all of them graduate students from India, had exactly what he was looking for to make the best app that they could.
“I think that embedded in Indian culture is the willingness to help and give the shirts off one’s back for someone,” Preuss said. “I see the same in veterans in how they serve so willingly. I tried to mold those two cultures together.”
Help for Veterans in the Modern World
Preuss knows better than most the breadth and severity of challenges confronting veterans and their families once they return home.
Many veterans who return home from combat suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Preuss recently served as a research fellow for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), a program that’s focus was on PTSD symptoms. However, he prefers to just call it Post-Traumatic Stress.
“I don’t agree with the disorder part of if,” Preuss said. “It’s a bad cycle— when people think they have a disorder, they think they can never get out of it. The more you reaffirm that they have a disorder, the more they feel they need help.”
Preuss sees the VeteransU app as a way to help manage Post-Traumatic Stress for Syracuse University veterans. The mobile aspect came to mind when Preuss saw how college students went about their lives.
“Coming back on campus and seeing students on their phones, they have no idea what’s outside the box,” Preuss said. “I wondered, if their focus was always on the box, how can I use it as a tool to help them? And it came to me: technology and apps. I put two and two together. If that’s the way they want to focus, how can I improve that experience?”
Big Things Still to Come
So far, the feedback for the VeteransU app has been great, according to Preuss. The input the app receives on a daily basis informs how it will be improved, and the software is constantly being examined and updated to suit the user’s changing needs.
In January, Preuss and Masiclat will be attending the Student Veterans of America National Conference in Orlando, which will host 600 different chapters who, like the one at Syracuse, are all looking to provide better help for veterans. Preuss is also looking to expand VeteransU into several other schools.
In addition to all of this, Preuss is looking into a new app similar to VeteransU that would aid former prison inmates in their reintroduction back into society.
With Veterans Day in less than two weeks, the attention being brought to veterans’ needs will only grow. Preuss says he is excited by that, and he wants the attention to result in something more than just publicity for an app.
“Everyone measures you by your accomplishments, not by what responsibilities you have,” Preuss said. “This project is bigger than me and it’s something every university should have.”