Whitman History with Veterans to be Furthered with NVRC

NVRC under construction

Whitman History with Veterans to be Furthered with NVRC

Entrepreneurship envelops the relationship between the Whitman School and the new National Veterans Resource Center, which opened this year on the Syracuse University campus.

“It’s a through line from Whitman to here,” says Michael Haynie, Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship at Whitman and founder and executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), sitting in his sun-splashed corner office in the National Veterans Resource Center (NVRC), where the IVMF moved this winter, “Whitman is embedded in everything we do.”

Mike Haynie

The line started when Haynie, a retired Air Force major, arrived at the Whitman School in fall 2006 as a new assistant professor of entrepreneurship. He had no idea his career here would grow to encompass advocacy for social and economic issues affecting veterans and military families. But within a year, the first Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) had been held at Whitman. The IVMF opened in 2011. Haynie was named vice chancellor for veterans and military affairs in 2014, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation in 2016 and a University Professor in 2018.


IVMF programs serve over 25,000 veterans annually, and Syracuse University’s student population includes more than 1,000 veterans and military-connected students, including more than 350 at the Whitman School.

The Air Force paid for Haynie’s graduate education, during his 14 years working in contracting and acquisitions. After he received an MBA from the University of Oregon in 2000, the Air Force appointed him to a three-year term as a professor of management at the Air Force Academy.

He “fell in love with teaching,” which led to a career change. Haynie received a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship from the University of Colorado’s Leeds Business School in 2005 and retired from the Air Force the next year as he interviewed for college teaching openings.

Haynie recalls he was ready to accept an offer from another university but decided to interview at Syracuse University because “Whitman had a great reputation in entrepreneurship.”

The Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises was created in 1994. The first Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Symposium was held in 2003, and in 2006 the WISE Women’s Business Center, a resource for women entrepreneurs, opened.

Impressed by the “genuine, authentic commitment to entrepreneurship embedded across the curriculum,” he accepted Whitman’s offer with no intention of becoming involved in veterans affairs. “I wanted to be a teacher,” he says.

Haynie’s aha moment came that first fall, while he was working with a Ph.D. student conducting research on entrepreneurship opportunities for people with disabilities. “I made a link to veterans,” he says, since 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans leave service with a disability.

He mapped out a 10-day summer bootcamp introduction to entrepreneurship for traumatically wounded veterans, creating a proposal of 40 PowerPoint slides, and took the idea to then dean, Melvin Stith ’73 MBA, ’78 Ph.D.

“I thought Mike’s idea was very innovative, and it fit with Whitman’s excellence in entrepreneurship,” says Stith, who served three years in Vietnam in the Army Military Intelligence Command before enrolling at Syracuse University. “I knew the sacrifices these veterans made and the price they paid that will impact their life and families. So anything that Whitman could do to enhance their lives, I was ready to respond in the affirmative.”

Mel Stith

“I bet 98 percent of the business school deans in the country would have said, ‘No way!’ to a first-year assistant professor without any reputation or experience running such a bootcamp, Haynie says. “Mel teared up. He got very emotional and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’”

Stith’s contributions to this program are remembered with the Entrepreneurial Spirit, Most Outstanding Venture, Captain Melvin T. Stith Pioneer Award, given by the EBV to an alumnus. Stith is also a member of the IVMF’s advisory board.


Haynie wanted the program to be free to participants and gives fundraising credit to Tom Foley G’81, the retired executive associate dean for institutional advancement. “He took me under his wing,” he says, noting that Foley introduced him to Martin J. Whitman ’49, H’08, a Navy veteran of World War II, and Steven W. Barnes ’82, H’19, a member of the Whitman Advisory Council and now chairman emeritus of the University’s Board of Trustees. They became EBV’s benefactors.

The first EBV cohort, 17 veterans, gathered at Whitman for a week in August 2007, intent on starting their own businesses. Gaining skills in accounting, human resources, supply chain, operations and strategy, they learned how to write business plans, raise capital and attract customers, determine effective marketing and decide on the need to hire employees.

“Entrepreneurship is a means through which veterans with disabilities can engage the economic engine of their community,” Haynie said in 2007, noting that people with disabilities were nearly twice as likely to be self-employed as the general population.

Advances in body armor and medicine meant more soldiers were surviving traumatic injuries—such as loss of limbs, burns or brain damage—in Iraq and Afghanistan and returning home disabled. By July 2007, the number of injured soldiers had exceeded 27,000.

“I figured it was going to be a little summer hobby for me,” Haynie says. But the first EBV proved “more impactful than anyone thought,” drawing national attention.

The program expanded to three other business schools in 2008: Florida State University’s College of Business, Mays Business School at Texas A&M University and UCLA Anderson School of Management. EBV consisted of three phases: a self-study session moderated by university faculty, a nine-day residency at a university program and 12 months of support and mentorship from faculty. Today, the EBV Consortium has grown to include the School of Business at the University of Connecticut, the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, the E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University, University of Missouri, the Krannert School at Purdue University and Saint Joseph’s University.

The next step in the evolution of what became IVMF was the creation of EBV-Families in 2010. That same year, the Small Business Administration contacted Haynie to ask for the start of a program for the federal government to benefit women, which became Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-WISE.

Group of EBV students

Haynie well understood Syracuse University’s longtime support of veterans history, including how former Chancellor William P. Tolley helped draft the GI Bill in 1944 and, after World War II ended in 1945, opened the University to any veteran seeking a degree. By 1947, University enrollment had tripled to 18,000 students, nearly half of them student veterans.

Pairing that history with the range of contemporary campus programs for veterans, Haynie says in 2010 he thought, “Why not create the nation’s first academic research center to concentrate on the socio-economic and wellness concerns of veterans?”

He took the proposal to then Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “Now that I’m a vice chancellor, I realize she did what a good chancellor should do,” Haynie says. “She said, ‘It’s a wonderful idea, and if you can find the money, you can do it.’”

In 2011, the School of Information Studies began offering the Veterans Career Transition Program, supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Haynie leveraged that relationship into the creation of the IVMF, seeded by a grant of $7.5 million from JPMorgan as the institute’s founding partner. The IVMF opened in June 2011.

Another key partner, Haynie points out, is Steve Barnes, “a very patriotic man who wants to serve veterans.” Barnes endowed the EBV in 2010, served as founding co-chair of the IVMF Advisory Board and endowed the Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship, to which Haynie was named to the same month the IVMF opened.

“There’s a classic definition of entrepreneurship: the pursuit of opportunity in the face of constrained resources. And that’s what you do in the military,” says Haynie, explaining why veterans are well prepared to pursue careers in entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship is a glass half-full view of the world, so it’s a good fit for veterans.”

And, he says, Whitman shares veterans’ view of the world.

“Every time Mel Stith spoke or gave an address, he’d talk about the Whitman family. There’s a lot of social isolation of the military now that we have an all-volunteer military, since only one percent of the population serves,” Haynie says. “What Whitman can give to them is a sense of family and a sense of connection and purpose.”

For instance, 30 percent of students enrolled in the online MBA@Syracuse program are active duty military or veterans. “They excel and graduate faster than other students. They approach going to school as their job,” he says.

Chris Dambach

The flagship graduate program, the Defense Comptrollership Program, has trained more than 1,900 financial managers to handle multibillion-dollar resources for the Department of Defense since 1952.

“The student veterans I talk to don’t say they go to Syracuse University,” Haynie says with a smile “They say, ‘I go to Whitman.’”

For Haynie, two stories of EBV graduates stand out for their determination to succeed.

Chris Dambach, a Marine veteran and Central New York native, returned home from Iraq unsure of his next step but remembered conversations in the desert about starting a lawn care business. With assistance from the EBV program in 2013, he created Veteran Lawn Care Services.

“He was passionate and persistent and put a business plan together,” Haynie says.

The company started with small landscaping jobs, then won a bid to work on Veterans Administration property in Brooklyn, New York. Dambach hitched a trailer behind his truck with his landscaping equipment, and he and a couple of other Marine veterans would drive to Brooklyn Monday, work Tuesday through Thursday and sleep in the trailer with the equipment, then drive home to Central New York on Friday.

The company—now called Industry Standard, a Certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business with the Veterans Administration and New York State—specializes in facility and grounds maintenance for government and commercial clients. Revenue nearly doubled in 2016 to more than $2 million, and the company was awarded the contract for the NVRC’s green roof.

“He went from nothing to where he is today,” says Haynie.

Brian Iglesias ’14 MBA followed a less traditional path. Part of the EBV class in 2008, he arrived as a Marine veteran with a college degree in fine arts and the desire to film a documentary about the Korean War’s Chosin Reservoir campaign. Renting a van, he and three other Marine veterans drove around the country for a year, interviewing aging Korean War veterans. The documentary, “Chosin,” released in 2020 with Iglesias as its director and one of two writers, became the most downloaded military film on Netflix, according to Haynie.

Iglesias is now senior director of marketing operations at ESPN, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves and a member of the IVMF Advisory Board.

In its new headquarters, the NVRC’s Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building, Haynie says he wants the IVMF to “keep an entrepreneurial edge, keep innovating and creating new ideas.” One new program on veterans and politics started this academic year with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs to prepare veterans who want to run for public office. The program drew 800 applications for its 20 spots.

Haynie says the IVMF should do more work with military children, up to college age, and the impact a parent’s absence during deployment overseas has on them.

NVRC under construction

“There’s no safety net for them. If they have a parent in the military, that parent is gone one year of every three and gone to places where people are trying to kill them. What does that mean for the kids? What’s the psychological impact?” he says.

Another focus should be on women veterans, whom he calls “the most underserved and least understood of all veterans.” Twenty percent of today’s veterans are women.

The NVRC stands on the site of the School of Education’s Hoople Building, torn down in 2016. The IVMF opened in the University College building on University Avenue before moving to White Hall. Seeing the Hoople Building as a potential new home, Haynie recalls hiring an architect on his own to draft plans for a $5 million to $6 million renovation of Hoople.

“I wanted some pretty pictures for my plan,” he says.

After Kent Syverud became Chancellor in 2014, Haynie approached him with that plan.

“The Chancellor said, ‘Mike, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right,’ and put my pretty pictures in a drawer.”

NVRC under construction

In 2018, the D’Aniellos made one of the University’s largest gifts, $20 million, for construction of the NVRC. Daniel D’Aniello ’68 earned a bachelor’s in transportation from what’s now the Whitman School, graduating magna cum laude and as a class marshal. A Navy veteran, he’s a life trustee of the University, a member of the Whitman Advisory Council and chairman of the IVMF Advisory Board.

The result is $62.5 million total project cost for NVRC’s new home. It’s a LEED-certified 115,000-square foot facility where the NVRC will combine academic research, programming and community-connected innovation to serve the social, economic and wellness concerns of the nation’s veterans and families.

The line from Whitman to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the National Veterans Resource Center strengthens Syracuse University’s academic standing as a school for veterans. Military Times publishes “Reboot camp Weekly,” with tips on the best education, employment and entrepreneurship for those transitioning out of the military. For 2020, Syracuse University was ranked No. 5 among the best four-year schools for veterans, the highest ranking of any private university.


United States map showing IVMF efforts

World map showing IVMF efforts

Do you want to see the building during the construction? This video highlights the progress of construction on the National Veterans Resource Center at Syracuse University. Check it out!