Veteran Services Hosts Second Chili Cook-Off

The University held its second annual Chili Cook-Off to raise funds for the University’s Veteran Services programs in Anacon Hall of the Rebecca Stafford Student Center (RSSC) on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The event was organized by Jeff Hood, Coordinator of Veteran Services at the University, and sophomore Jordan Mouton, President of the Veterans Association.

The Veteran Services programs at the University specialize in assisting former military personnel as they adapt to being college students after the completion of their service in the military. These programs also enable veterans to understand all of the options they have available to help them afford their tuition, Hood explained.

“All veterans go to a transition program before they get out of the military and, in most cases, it doesn’t make them understand their GI Bill benefits,” Hood said. “We help them understand how these benefits help them and can give them a detailed plan of how to map out their education based on what they have.”

Veteran Services also offers emotional support for veterans. Hood encourages any veteran student to speak up if they are going through a difficult time because Veteran Services has various counseling programs available to help them.

Mouton, a psychology major who served three years in the Air Force and one year in the Army, said Veteran Services has helped him acclimate to being a college student. Mouton praised the work of the University’s program that set him on the right track for his higher education after his tour of duty was over.

“[Veteran Services] has definitely helped me a lot. There are a lot different people us veterans have to talk to when accessing our benefits and it helps to have a person like Jeff to talk to at school to help us with the process,” Mouton said.

Chili-2“Sometimes it’s difficult for a veteran to admit that they are broken or admit they’re having problems, such as PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder),” Hood, who served 23 years in the Air Force, said. “But when they do, they have a lot of resources available to them.”

According to Hood, the University has 65 veteran students this year, and he hopes the Chili Cook-Off will become the signature event on campus to raise money for Veteran Services.

Last year, the cook off raised about $200 and had 13 entries. This year, the event raised $130 as seven University employees and students competed for the two prizes in the cook-off: chili with the overall best taste, and best heat and flavor.

Anthony Conard, an Area Coordinator for Residential Life, won the best heat and flavor award for the past two consecutive years, and enjoyed donating his time and entry fee to the Veteran Services. “I know what Jeff [Hood] does with the veterans and all the activities, and it’s always good to support the students,” Conard said. “I changed up my recipe from last year. It’s a fun event. It’s interesting to see what other people do with their chili. I enjoyed them all.”

Pat Dodd, Assistant to the Vice President for Information Management, won last year’s award for overall best taste. Although she did not duplicate her award this year, she still had a good time competing in the contest. “My husband is a veteran, my boss, Ed Christensen, is a veteran, and my dad was a veteran. It’s a fun thing and for a good cause,” Dodd said.

Edward Christensen, Vice President for Information Management, and Corey Inzana, another Area Coordinator for Residential Life, were guest judges. They awarded this year’s overall best flavor to Melissa Ziobro, a University alum and adjunct professor for History and Anthropology.

“I’ve never actually made chili before,” Ziobro said after she was awarded the trophy. “I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t really like meat so I was just winging it. I wanted to participate because I’m interested in any opportunity to help the students and veteran organization. I have a great appreciation for the military.”

Last year, the University was recognized by various organizations for being one of the country’s top colleges for veterans. Military Times, a group of publications for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, ranked the University as one of the nation’s top colleges for veterans for the second year in row. The University also received the distinction of being named a “Military Friendly School” by Victory Media, a “2014 Top Military-Friendly University” by Military Advanced Education, and was ranked as a “2014 Best College for Veterans” by U.S. News & World Report.

“It’s a testament to MU being veteran friendly,” Hood said. “From the admissions office and the president on down, the whole school supports the veterans and helps them graduate and go on to get jobs.”

PHOTOS TAKEN by Paul Williams