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Reaching more military-connected learners

Director expanding ASU's Tillman Center programs, services

ASU Pat Tillman Veterans Center Director Shawn Banzhaf standing in front of a large shield that says "honor."

Pat Tillman Veterans Center Director Shawn Banzhaf. Photo courtesy Charlie Leight/ASU News

November 03, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of our Salute to Service coverage, Nov. 8–18. Learn about the schedule of events.  

In the span of a year, Shawn Banzhaf received his master’s degree in sociology, was elected the president of Arizona State University staff council and was named executive director of ASU's Pat Tillman Veterans Center.

With almost 12 months of leadership under his belt, the former combat veteran, pastor and author has not let up on his activity level. In fact he's expanding the Tillman Center’s programs, partnerships and taking it to places where it’s never ventured before.

As the third director to lead the Tillman Center since its opening in 2011, Banzhaf is taking the center’s brand, reach and capabilities to new heights.

This year, he will oversee the formation of the ASU West Valley Campus Advisory Board, a telehealth program for veterans and mobile stole ceremonies for student veterans. And that’s just the start.

ASU News spoke to Banzhaf about the past year, what he has in store for the Tillman Center and his commitment to fellow veterans.

Question: It’s been quite a year for you in terms of milestones and transitions. What’s it like to be the director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center and what are some surprises you didn’t expect? 

Answer: I would say that because my team is so excellent, the transition has been an easier-than-expected one. I am not sure I was too surprised by too many things, however, there are times when I am asked to be a keynote speaker or the subject matter expert on something that I look around to see if they are talking to me.

Q: In listening to you speak the past year, it appears as if you want to take more of an outreach approach for the center than your predecessors. What are some things you have planned? 

A: I have really pushed our team into a direction and made some promises to our student this year. Those promises — I call the three C's — are that the Tillman Center will do all we can to provide customer service excellence; the Tillman Center promises to be committed to community; and that I promise to leverage my personal brand and the Tillman brand to ensure that our students are career ready. All those promises require building strong partnerships within the ASU enterprise and outside of it as well. How can we collaborate with companies, government entities and champions of veterans to create a superior scaffolding in support of our military connected learners?

I think in my outlook for the future, I envision the Tillman Center going to the students in the online space more often; it's part of our commitment to community. Military folk will appreciate this: If you are on the main camp and you have troops out at the FOB or outposts, you need to make sure they are taken care of, just like you would the troops inside the wire. Our online students are outside the wire, so to speak, and I want us to do what we can to help them stay in connection with us. 

And then there is our Sun Devil Vets for Life. Our alum are out doing amazing things and we want to keep them connected to us, and that takes outreaching and creating opportunities for us to gather from time to time.     

Q: In the past year, you’ve also helped put together an ASU West Valley Campus Advisory Board. What will be the function and ultimate goal of this board? 

A: In support of President Crow’s West Valley Forward initiative and our three C's approach, we wanted to connect to veterans in the West Valley that are steeped in the culture there, who are business owners and influencers, and are champions of our movement here at the Tillman Center. This will give them a space to provide valuable feedback for us in support of our students.

We went into the community and gathered four very knowledgeable and passionate people to form an advisory board to the directors at the Tillman Center. We will meet quarterly and hear trends in the West Valley, opportunities for growth and development for our team from their perspective, and give them opportunities to build relationships with our student population as well.  

Q: What are some of the major challenges the Tillman Center faces and how can the ASU community, and community at large, help? 

A: I will start with what underlies most things I do, and our center does. I don't want people to forget that 22 veterans a day die by suicide and our ASU student veteran population is not immune to that statistic. We have lost student veterans to this, and we face this challenge head on. From my vantage point, one of the causes of this lies in a veteran's loss of self-value because of their separation from the military. 

The military, for good reason, instills in its people that they have value only in their team. I know this is needed to build a strong national defense, but when we leave that culture, it is often hard to identify any value in yourself apart from your team. The challenge we face is how to add self-value back into our students post-transition, so they know they are worth this degree, worth the successes that await them and worth living.    

Q: Can you talk about your fundraising efforts for the Tillman Center and why it’s important? 

A: What I can say is this: We are looking for people who want to join our movement. For people who want to help the (center) enrich the lives of our student veterans. We are actively engaged with people in the community who are interested in philanthropic support of our efforts here. We have wonderful programs and scholarships that are in need of financial support, and anyone interested, please reach out to our director of development and strategic partnerships, Michelle Loposky, for more information.  

Q: Is there anything else the ASU community should know about our military and student veteran population? 

A: The students ASU produces overall are extraordinary, added in that nearly 15,000 of those students have ties to the world's greatest military, and the values each branch holds make them a perfect addition to any career. Look out for our Sun Devil vets; they are being prepared to produce principled innovations that will help shape our world for years to come.

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