For veterans returning from deployments and years of active military service, enrolling in and succeeding at college, and transitioning to civilian life, can be a daunting task. Add in a worldwide pandemic and the corresponding isolation, the transition can become even tougher.
It’s something that UNLV student and U.S. Air Force veteran Andrew Ho understood firsthand when he took on the role of president of Rebel Vets in January 2020 — just two months before the world shut down.
It’s why Ho was recognized this past weekend as the nation’s 2020 Student Veteran of the Year by Student Veterans of America.
After seven years in the U.S. Air Force, and deployments to Kuwait and Niger, Ho left the military in Fall 2017 and enrolled at UNLV for the subsequent spring semester.
At the time, Ho was taking classes in business and hospitality, wanting to build on his experience with the services career field in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a military cook, and oversaw the functioning of fitness centers and dining and lodging facilities.
Also at that time, Ho was looking for a way to connect.
He soon realized that he wanted to do the same for other student veterans on campus, so he joined PAVE, a peer-to-peer mentoring program within UNLV’s Military and Veteran Services Center. At the same time, he realized that he found a passion for health care, and enrolled in the university’s psychology program.
He slowly moved his way up the organization, starting out first as a general member, and then on to secretary, and then finally was elected president in January 2020.
Rebel Vets provided professional development and mental health courses in a virtual format with help from military-connected partners in the community. Ho organized a weekly, socially distanced hike for student veterans, and volunteer opportunities with organizations like Three Square, Share Village, and Bowling with Blue.
Other community partners include organizations like Merging Vets and Players, Horses 4 Heroes, Caesars Salute, UNLV CSUN, and Adopt-A-Cop.
Ho has also organized events that have allowed members of Rebel Vets to advocate for student veteran concerns, and he’s working on plans with fellow members to create a veterans lounge on campus — a one-stop-shop where student veterans “can feel welcome, supported, and ready to make it happen at UNLV,” Ho said.
Ho is the second UNLV student veteran to earn the designation of Student Veteran of the Year from Student Veterans of America. Alexandria Sawin was named the 2018 Student Veteran of the Year.
For more information about UNLV’s student veteran programs, visit UNLV’s veteran website.