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Scholar Spotlight: Q&A with Sara Blewett
Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar Sara Blewett is working to reduce military-connected job seekers' fears and help employers become veteran ready.
Tell us a little about yourself, your work, and your personal leadership project.
I was born to serve – raised by a military veteran and a social worker. I lived a nomadic life before marrying a U.S. Marine, settling in California, and becoming a stepmom and twin mom. I know what it's like to navigate life transitions as the "new kid," and I'm driven to help others belong.
In 2016, I jumped at the chance to serve pre-transition service members as the Program Manager for Hiring Our Heroes aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. I led three cohorts of pre-transition service members and learned everything I could about transition assistance programs, employment pathways, and the human experience of ending a service contract. When one Marine admitted to being more afraid of transition than he was when he left for boot camp, I knew my life's work.
To build competencies and learn about veteran employment and integration, I earned a graduate degree in organization development. My most significant learning came from a reverse transition: my civilian-to-military transition and integration experience while working among active-duty and veteran personnel at Camp Pendleton. The challenges I faced shaped my practice point of view. It became clear that employers, educators, and service providers had significant roles in enabling successful military-civilian integration.
During the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, I designed my personal leadership project to demonstrate the importance of creating an integrated approach to military-to-civilian support, including investments made by individuals, employers, educators, and the community of veteran service providers.
My capstone presentation summarized the need for individual readiness, and I designed and facilitated the "First Stop to Transformation" workshop series. The curriculum filled the gaps in traditional transition assistance programs (TAP). It included personal development elements essential for career success, such as purpose, values, self-advocacy, uncommon skills translations, new career discovery, employer/recruiter expectations, and organizational culture awareness. I am proud of the impact this program has made and the feedback I received from pre-transition participants: "The awareness of this program allowed me to peel the onion back on who I am as a person, not just who I am as a Marine."
Please update us on what you've been working on since your time in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.
Since VLP, I have continued my work with individuals, employers, educators, and service providers. I joined VLP alumna Anne Meree Craig at the COMMIT Foundation as the Director of Corporate Education. I developed a consulting practice within the veteran-serving nonprofit to help employers and veteran service providers shift from veteran-friendly to veteran-ready. I designed the INVEST framework for veteran readiness and led client engagements with DraftKings, Fiserv, and PayPal and Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) in Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.
As an independent consultant, I joined MedTechVets, a veteran-serving nonprofit organization, to expand veterans' curriculum and employment pathways into MedTech and HealthTech careers. By the end of the engagement, we had established partnerships with National Veterans Transition Services, San Diego Veterans Community Connection, and the United States Army Reserve Private Public Partnership Office.
As the Military Engagement Lead for the University of California Los Angeles Master of Quantitative Economics (MQE) Program, I was tasked to expand the military-connected student population through community outreach initiatives. In partnership with the program's team, we hosted six virtual community Lunch & Learn events and secured a student pipeline with the United States Air Force Academy. I was delighted to help the faculty and staff increase their understanding of the student veteran experience and the value of veterans in the classrooms.
In partnership with UCLA MQE and Amazon, I host virtual career conference readiness workshops for military-connected job seekers and Amazon recruiters. I am hopeful that more employers will invest in career readiness workshops to help veteran talent emerge and to build their pipelines of military-connected job seekers.
What drives you to do this work?
I do this work because I can. Few people share my unique background in military and civilian-connected communities, so my work is also my responsibility. My Camp Pendleton Marines and Sailors trusted me with their transition experiences, so I do this work for them. I've traded time with my kids for time with veterans, so my work is personal. Serving the military-connected community gives me purpose and fulfillment.
How did the Veteran Leadership Program help you develop your personal leadership project and your leadership skills?
I was extremely nervous during my personal leadership project presentation, and I don't recall what any of the spoken comments were. But I was grateful for the written comment cards, especially the one that said, "you don't need your notes."
The VLP experience has helped me believe that I don't need my notes; I can stand and deliver a message with conviction, regardless of the audience. I aim to scale my work and drive system-wide change as a leader. The Stand-To VLP helped me believe I could.
Which lessons learned during VLP have stayed with you the most, and how do you put those lessons into action?
A national shift must be made from "veteran-friendly" to "veteran ready" to serve veterans in holistic, meaningful, and sustainable ways. We must shift from solving single problems (i.e., employment) to providing individualized readiness programs through investments by employers, educators, and service providers.
The power of the Bush Institute's Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program and alumni network is apparent; it's empowered me to bring my leadership project and mission to life in meaningful ways. The veteran ecosystem is vast, and the Stand-To VLP taught me that while I cannot solve the whole problem, I can do my part to increase awareness, reduce fear and improve outcomes, one person at a time.