Autumn 2021 Veterans Symposium

                               Symposium Day One Recording

                               Symposium Day Two Recording

International House will host the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities (OMAC) for the Autumn 2021 Veterans Symposium. This program will discuss research findings from the 2020 symposium. It will also include social and professional networking opportunities. 

The event will take place at 1414 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637

Please note that the main entrance is currently for residents only; please use the door on South Dorchester Ave to enter the Assembly Hall.

Convenings are open to all invitees who are compliant with UChicago vaccination requirements and, because of ongoing health risks, particularly to the unvaccinated, participants are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures (masking and social distancing, etc.) appropriate to their vaccination status as advised by public health officials or to their individual vulnerabilities as advised by a medical professional. Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures. We are complying with all University guidelines on the Go Forward website and, at this time, masks are required to be worn by unvaccinated and vaccinated attendees inside International House.

Persons with disabilities who need assistance should contact International House in advance of the program at 773.753.2274 or e-mail

Symposium Day 1: Thursday, November 4, 2021, 9:30 AM-3:30 PM (Click to view recording)

  • 9:30 AM-9:45 AM - Welcome Remarks
  • 9:45 AM-10:50 AM - Research Findings (Dr. Erin McFee, OMAC Lead Research Associate)
  • 10:55 AM-11:25 AM - Ivy League Veterans Council (Alvaro Morales, Chairman)
  • 11:30 AM-12:00 PM - Elizabeth Dole Foundation's Hidden Heroes Initiative (Theresa Coomer, Military Caregiver)
  • 12:00 PM-1:00 PM - Lunch Break
  • 1:00 PM-1:10 PM - The University of Chicago Veterans and Family Readiness Program (Nichole Wilson, Co-chair)
  • 1:10 PM-1:40 PM - Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services (Sam Whitehurst, Vice President, Programs and Services)
  • 1:45 PM-2:15 PM - Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Services (Julian Purdy, Chief of Staff)
  • 2:20 PM-2:55 PM - Measurement and Evaluation (Dr. Erin McFee)
  • 3:00 PM-3:25 PM - Keynote Address, U.S. Army Colonel (retired) Gregory Gadson
  • 3:30 PM - Adjournment

Symposium Day 2: Friday, November 5, 2021, 9:30AM-1:30PM (Click to view recording)

  • 9:30 AM-10:30 AM - Panel Discussion (Dr. David Vacchi and Dr. Aynsley Diamond) moderated by Dr. Amy Morys
  • 10:35 AM-11:05 AM - Social Capital Among Enlisted and Officers (Eric Snyder, OMAC Lead Research Assistant)
  • 11:10 AM-12:10 PM - Skillbridge and Beyond (Dr. Cody Nichols, Kandi Tillman and Lindsey Schiro) moderated by Ms. Elizabeth Belcaster
  • 12:15 PM-12:45 PM - Moral Injury (Dr. Matthew Schumacher)
  • 12:50 PM-1:20 PM - Student Veterans of America (Fontaine Stegall)
  • 1:30 PM - Adjournment

Welcome Picnic: Friday, November 5, 2021, 2:00PM -6:00PM

The Welcome Picnic will be held at International House's North Garden located on South Blackstone Street. 

Convenings are open to all invitees who are compliant with UChicago vaccination requirements and, because of ongoing health risks, particularly to the unvaccinated, participants are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures (masking and social distancing, etc.) appropriate to their vaccination status as advised by public health officials or to their individual vulnerabilities as advised by a medical professional. Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures. We are complying with all University guidelines on the Go Forward website and, at this time, masks are required to be worn by unvaccinated and vaccinated attendees inside International House.

Persons with disabilities who need assistance should contact International House in advance of the program at 773.753.2274 or e-mail

Erin McFee

OMAC Lead Research Associate

Dr. Erin McFee is a political anthropologist who combines her expertise in organizational studies and finance with her training as an anthropologist to contribute original research in the academic and policy domains. She is a UK Research and Innovation’s Future Leaders Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Latin America and Caribbean Centre and Research Associate for the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities (OMAC) at the University of Chicago.

She completed her PhD and MA in Human Development at the University of Chicago and obtained her MBA at Simmons University in Boston. McFee’s research focuses on transitions from war-time violence and comparable experiences to civilian life with a focus on interpersonal trust building. She has published in and edited volumes, academic journals, essay collections, and blogs, and has co-edited her own volume on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) reintegration in Colombian society following the signing of the 2016 peace accord. In particular, she collaborates with cross-sector organized interventions in the United States, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, and Syria who work on these complex transitions in order to measure and evaluate their programs.

McFee also consults for the U.N. Agency for Migration in Colombia and Somalia. Her father, John D. McFee, is a Vietnam era Army Veteran.

Alvaro Morales

Chairman, Ivy League Veterans Council

Alvaro Morales served 5 years in the United States Marine Corps as a Correctional Officer. In 2017, upon transitioning out, he began his education by enrolling at the University of North Texas. In 2018, Alvaro transferred to Princeton during the inaugural reinstatement of their transfer program. He is now a senior majoring in economics, where upon graduating, he will be joining Morgan Stanley's Investment Banking Division in New York City. He is currently serving as Chairman of the Ivy League Veterans Council.

Theresa Coomer

Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Hidden Heroes Initiative, Veteran Caregiver

Veteran spouse and caregiver.

Sam Whitehurst

Vice President, Programs and Services, Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services

Colonel (Ret.) Sam Whitehurst is the Vice President for Programs & Services at Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services. Since 2012, Dixon Center’s collaboration and capacity building has impacted nearly 2.1 million individuals and organizations.  Dixon Center partners with business and industry, service providers, and training institutions to develop and operate direct service programs for veterans and their families. The goal is not to create new programs. Rather, the goal is to enable the integration of military and veteran services into existing programs to increase impact.

Colonel Whitehurst joined the Dixon Center team in 2019 and drawing upon his 29 years in the United States Army as an infantry officer, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, is now focused on ensuring that service members, military veterans, and their families reach their full potential and successfully integrate back into their communities. He finished his military career as the National Director for the Army’s Soldier for Life program. 

Lindsey Schiro

Director of People, The Honor Foundation

Lindsey Schiro grew up in Massachusetts and pursued a degree in medicine, attending Colby-Sawyer College for Psychology. After her husband was wounded in Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror, she shifted her priorities to advocating for the families of the wounded, ill and injured of this Nation’s longest war. 

She currently serves as the Director of People at The Honor Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to serving transitioning Special Operators as they navigate their next mission after military service. She has spent nearly ten years serving various military non profits, joining forces and creating initiatives in partnership with the American Red Cross, U.S Army Special Forces, and U.S Congress. She currently serves on military hiring boards, and various nonprofit boards supporting domestic violence survivors. Nominated for Military Spouse of the Year, she holds a strong focus on veterans mental health and its impact on their families. She is currently obtaining her graduate certificate from Harvard University in Nonprofit Leadership, and hopes to continue advocating for our Nation’s veterans and their families. She currently resides outside Ft. Bragg, North Carolina with her family.

Eric Snyder

OMAC Lead Research Assistant, Second Year in the College

Eric Snyder grew up in Northwest Suburbs of Chicago in McHenry County. He enlisted in the United States Army on January 08, 2013, following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather—a combat medic in the “Big Red One” during World War II who served in the Tunisia Campaign, Italian Campaign, Operation Overlord, Battle of the Bulge, and the eventual occupation of Berlin.

Eric began his service as a 13B cannon-crewmember as part of the 2-321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment (AFAR), 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82nd Airborne Division until its deactivation in March 2014. He then attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and was accepted into the Special Forces Qualification Course as an 18D Special Forces Medic. He spent four years as a medical sergeant for the Special Operations Resuscitation Team Charlie (SORT-C), 528th Special Troops Battalion (STB), 1st Special Forces Command (1st SFC). He operated as the team armorer, weapons expert, search and rescue expert, and Regional Support Medic amongst other capacities. Eric separated from service March 08, 2020 due to medical disabilities after seven years of service and is now one of 30 undergraduate veteran scholars at the College of University of Chicago.

Some of Eric’s accomplishments include: being the youngest person to complete the Operation of Strategic Warfare (OSW) Regional Support Medic program making him one of less than 30 people to have accomplished the course at the time as well as one of 646 people in the United States to be certified as both a Flight Paramedic and a Critical Care Paramedic, conducting +50 missions in Syria and Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, managing over $500million of military equipment, planning and executing a multi-service brigade-level training exercise, providing medical care to over 1,000 patients in more than five United States hospitals and four different countries, as well as delivering an emergency medicine and triage seminar to medical students in Honduras.

Eric is currently pursuing a dual-major in Economics and Religious Studies with a focus in Behavioral Economics and Middle Eastern religions with a desire to pursue a dual JD/MBA at the University of Chicago in order to pursue work in the non-profit sector. Eric is a life-time member and supporter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Wounded Warrior Project. He is also currently volunteering with Veterans Yoga Project, Warriors at Ease, the Institute of Politics, as well as serving on the Board of Advisors for the Chicago Chapter of the Blue Star Families and working with the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities (OMAC) at the University of Chicago.

Kandi Tillman

Managing Co-Founder, 50strong

Kandi Tillman is the Managing Co-Founder of 50strong, an industry-led collaborative effort in support of at-scale veteran employment initiatives. Kandi brings nearly 20 years of corporate experience in strategy, technology sales & brand marketing at powerhouse companies including Procter & Gamble, Henkel, Oracle & SAP - as well as business consulting for many smaller companies – to the veteran employment space.  In 2018, and in an effort to learn the veteran services “industry”, she left her corporate work and took an entry level role at the Veterans Outreach Coordinator for Arizona’s 9th Congressional District.  She then consulted at Arizona State University across all veterans initiatives.  In 2020, she and her husband Kevin stood up 50strong.  50strong was inspired by Kevin’s nearly 3-year journey to find meaningful employment after his separation from the Army in 2005, stories of countless other transitioning service members & importantly, ongoing support from various military-ready employers and collaboration with 20 higher ed partners. 

Kandi is a graduate of The University of Alabama.  She and her family live outside Phoenix, Arizona.  She is honored to serve on the City of Phoenix Business & Workforce Development Board’s Outreach Committee and the U.S. VETS Phoenix Advisory Council. 

Matthew Schumacher

National Security Psychologist and Consultant, Los Angeles Sheriff Division

Matthew Schumacher, PhD is a National Security Psychologist and Consultant for the LASD Detective Division. Formerly, he was a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy and has a decade of experience in Military and Operationally Focused Psychology & Leadership Consultation with multiple deployments to Iraq, Africa, and Afghanistan including in support of special operations forces and the intelligence community. He is an expert in military and national security psychology, psychological response to disasters and psychiatric emergences, and has robust experiencing teaching medical, special operations, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel. In 2015 he was the first officer to complete the Navy’s Joint, Interagency Operational Psychology Fellowship sponsored by DEVGRU and the Defense Intelligence Agency. From 2013 to 2018 he was Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, teaching and supervising psychologists and psychiatrists in inpatient and emergency psychiatry, deployment psychology, and crisis/disaster response. He ended his military career with Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) as embedded operational psychologist in April 2018. He is a fully qualified SERE psychologist, holds a TS/SCI clearance, and is qualified to support High Value Detainee Interrogations (HIG). He has trained or deployed with special units of USASOC, NSW, MARSOC, LAPD, DIA, CIA, NSA, and the FBI.

Prior to his military career, Dr. Schumacher spent three years as a psychiatry researcher at Stanford School of Medicine, focusing on inpatient and emergency clinical trials in Bipolar Disorders. His research background has focused on psychiatric emergencies and his dissertation examined the problem of suicidality among active duty military members. Dr. Schumacher earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 2011 from Northern Illinois University and completed his internship at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego, CA. He completed formal post-doctoral training in Operational Psychology in 2015. He completed undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago, where he also captained the varsity track and field team. 

David Vacchi

Veteran Researcher and Advocate

Dr. David Vacchi is US Army veteran of 20 years with deployments for Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom in the early 2000s who earned a PhD in Higher Education Administration from UMass-Amherst as a student veteran using the Post 9/11 GI Bill in which his dissertation research focused on explaining student veteran success. A nationally recognized author and scholar, David critiques research and models that take a negative view of veterans, while leveraging his own scholarly background to demonstrate how veterans succeed despite numerous obstacles to their success. David has been a faculty member or administrator in higher education since 2005. David developed a Veteran's Bootcamp virtual course offered through Fortify Associates and also provides fractional veteran's services as a consultant for campuses and corporate organizations alike. 

His book, entitled "Straight Talk for Veterans" is an evidence-based handbook intended to help veterans successfully transition to higher education or the workplace. 

Fontaine Stegall

Board Member, Student Veterans of America

Fontaine Stegall has served as a member of the Board of Directors for Student Veterans of America since 2018. Currently, Fontaine is a Supply Chain Management Manager at MRC Global. Fontaine Stegall believes our military veterans are tomorrow’s most influential leaders. She has served these future innovators as cofounder and Chapter President of Student Veterans of America at the University of Houston chapter from 2014-2016. Under her leadership, the UH chapter became a finalist in the 2015 Business Plan Competition and was recognized as the 2015 SVA Chapter of the Year.

Fontaine, a U.S. Navy veteran, served six years active duty as a nuclear machinist mate, MM2 (SW), and completed two deployments to the Persian Gulf onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

From working in corporate America and as a recent student veteran graduate, Fontaine brings a fresh perspective to the Board of Directors at Student Veterans of America. She attended the University of Houston where she received her bachelor’s degree in Petroleum Engineering. She currently resides in Houston, TX.

Julian Purdy

Chief of Staff, Department of Labor, Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS)

Julian Purdy is honored and proud to serve as the Chief of Staff of Veterans' Employment and Training Service in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Julian has over 12 years of service working for and in the federal government. As a former Army NCO, he is truly dedicated to public service and to the betterment of our nation's heroes.

Prior to his appointment by the Biden Harris Administration to DOL, Julian served as a Professional Staff Member on the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. On the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Julian was responsible for conceptualizing, drafting, and analyzing legislation related to military transition, employment, education, vocational training, home loans, and homelessness. During his tenure, he was one of the leading contributors for H.R. 7105, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, which increases protections for student veterans, expands benefits for homeless veterans, and mitigates the impact of COVID-19 on veterans.

Julian built his acumen for veteran’s issues while serving as a Legislative Assistant in the Office of Rep. Adam Smith, where he worked on a wide range of domestic policies. He began his career on Capitol Hill through two programs that bolstered his desire to improve the lives of his fellow Americans through legislation: the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives' Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Legislative Internship Program. Before working in the Legislative Branch, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve for eight years.

Julian hails from Northern Virginia and holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in International Business from Bethune-Cookman University.

Elizabeth (Liz) Belcaster

EMB Consultants, Inc.

Leading initiatives for Veterans’ and military families, Ms. Belcaster is an expert in strategic development of training to placement efforts across the country and an advisor for leadership and coalition building. She is responsible for networking with employers, military partners, and legislators as well as building independent partnerships with labor affiliates and with veteran’s service organizations across the country. She served as Task Force Committee member and lead panelist for the American Legion National Licensing and Credentialing Summits and continues to drive industry stakeholders, governing agencies, labor unions and military affiliations in collective spaces to further advance programming and policy for service members across the globe.

Ms. Belcaster specializes in development of Military Training to Placement efforts with military leadership, industry, labor, academia and regulatory agencies and stakeholders across the country.

Ms. Belcaster had concurrent experience directing political campaign initiatives for the offices of Governor, State and National Congress, Senate, Aldermanic, and regional judicial positions.

In 2015, Ms. Belcaster was a presenter and at the Clinton Global Initiative and serves as a board member on the Women For Wounded Warriors Foundation since 2016.

On January 28, 2017, Ms. Belcaster was the recipient of United States Field Artillery Associations, The Order of Saint Barbara award.

Review of EMB working history:

  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters - Strategic Planning, Training to Placement Development of Teamsters mIlitary Assistance Program
  • Power For America Training Trust - Strategic Planning, Training to Placement Development
  • Utility Workers Union of America - Strategic Planning - Utility Workers Military Assistance Program
  • SEIU Local 73 Heroes to HealthCare Program Development and Executive Director
  • Dixon Center for Veterans and Military Families - Advisor for Workforce Programs
  • White House Joining Forces Roundtable committee member
  • Illinois Joining Forces - task force and committee member
  • Illinois Institute of Technology - Consultant for SmartGrid Launch
  • MTEQ - DOD contract - Fort Belvoir Night Vision Complex - Training Initiative Consultation
  • Clinton Global Initiative Presenter - Veterans Licensing and Credentialing Health Care Panel Presenter
  • American Legion Licensing and Credentialing - Summit 1, 2, & 3 - Panel Presenter, Task Force Committee Member
  • SkillBridge Advisory Board
  • DOD/Fort McNair Launch of DOD Cyber Security Program at City Colleges of Chicago
  • Founder, Coordinator Chicago NorthWest Side Irish Organization and Annual St. Patricks Day Parade

Cody Nicholls

Research Development Associate, National Security Programs University of Arizona

Cody Nicholls is a Research Development Associate for National Security Programs at the University of Arizona. In this role he provides support for faculty in pursuit of external funding (federal, foundation, industry) for fundamental research programs supporting national security topics, issues and challenges, Defense, Intelligence and Homeland Security-related discovery and innovation. Previously he served for just under 9 years as the Assistant Dean of Students for Military and Veteran Engagement at the University of Arizona. Cody is a nine-and-a-half-year veteran of the Army Reserves and Wyoming National Guard. During his tenure in the Reserves he completed two deployments to the Middle East, Iraq (2004-2005) & Kuwait (2008-2009) and one state side mobilization, in the National Guard, immediately following 9/11 (2001-2002). Cody served as the National Co-Chair for the NASPA Veterans Knowledge Community with his term of service March 2018 – March 2020. Cody received the “Super Et Ultra” Award from the Veterans Knowledge Community for going “above and beyond” in his service to his fellow veterans in February of 2019 at the NASPA Annual Symposium on Military-Connected Students. He currently serves as a member of the steering committee for the Southern Arizona Military/Veteran Community Network. He serves as an executive board member of the Association of the United States Army Tucson Chapter and serves as the Secretary for the Board of Directors of the Tucson Committee on Foreign Relations. Cody previously served as a member of retired US Senator Jeff Flake’s (AZ) military and veteran advisory council. Cody currently serves on US Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s veteran advisory council. Cody earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education with a major concentration in Organization & Administration from the College of Education and a minor concentration in Entrepreneurship from the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. Cody is a founder and investor in Post.Bid.Ship which was recently acquired by a third party.

Aynsley Diamond

Director of Faculty Outreach and Engagement in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut

Aynsley Diamond, Ed.D. is the Director of Faculty Outreach and Engagement in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut. In this role, she supports university -wide efforts to enhance student learning outcomes by partnering with faculty, administration, and colleges to advance teaching methodology and provide thought leadership for initiatives which directly impact student success. The author of “The Adaptive Military Transition Theory” and its representative model, Dr. Diamond is a fierce advocate for military affiliated students and their families. Aynsley uses her research and experience with the military community to guide her work in policy action, practitioner support, and military student representation in the academy.