‘Boots to Suits’ aims to move vets into college

Special to The Colorado Statesman

Military veterans moving from military life to civilian life have gotten another tool to help with that process. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and CU Denver have created a “Boots to Suits” program that will move vets into college and then into a second transition into the business world.

Boots to Suits started just a year ago, part of the university’s Veteran Student Services office. About 60 veterans are already in the program, and another 25 are expected in the spring semester.

Cameron Cook, CU-Denver Director of Veterans Student Services, describes the “Boots to Suits” program to legislators during a Jan. 31 legislative luncheon sponsored by the university.
Photo courtesy “Boots To Suits” program

The program was featured in a legislative luncheon last week for about three dozen legislators. Cameron Cook, director of veteran student services, told the audience that CU Denver had a program for helping veterans transition from military life to college. But “we weren’t doing all we could,” Cook said. Boots to Suits takes it another large step further by assigning mentors to the student veterans. Each mentor meets six times with the student, to help the student understand the career field he or she will enter, help create a civilian-style resume and work on networking. Students also participate in mock interviews and attend panel discussions where they learn what employers are looking for or how to start their own businesses.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, is a “Boots to Suits” mentor; she worked with Ashley Metcalf.
Photo courtesy “Boots To Suits” program

Many student veterans go directly from high school into the military, and most lack business attire to wear to job interviews. Boots to Suits dealt with that problem with a grant from PCL Construction, which provides every student veteran with a custom-made business suit from Brooks Brothers.

The program “takes the veteran student the last step into the work environment,” Cook said. Cook is himself a Marine veteran who served in Iraq. “I always remember where I came from,” he said.

Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, right, is a mentor to Josh Diller, center, and Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, an Iraq war veteran who plans to join the “Boots to Suits” program. — Story and additional photos on page 11.
Photo by Marianne Goodland/The Colorado Statesman

Izzy Abbass, director of the Boots to Suits program, noted that one student had gotten 11 interviews through his mentor — and 11 job offers. The program’s goal is to match 100 veterans with mentors, and that at least 20 percent are employed three months after graduation. Cook noted that unemployment among returning veterans is 3 to 4 percent higher than the national unemployment rate.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, was the first legislator to sign up for the program. She is working with student and Air Force Reservist Ashley Metcalf, who will graduate in May with a degree in sociology. He plans to go to graduate school for a degree in social work. “We can wave a flag and say thank you for your service,” Todd told the audience. “This is action.”

Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, are the newest legislators to get involved with Boots to Suits. Both are veterans of service in the Middle East. Garcia, a Marine paramedic, knows firsthand how difficult the transition from military life to college can be. In 2003 Garcia was activated mid-semester to help ensure the return of Marines who died in action. “You can’t finish those courses,” Garcia explained, but he got assistance from the college to continue progress toward his degree, as well as mentors who helped him with the transition to civilian life. Garcia said what resonated with him about the Boots to Suits program was its desire to help vets move from military to civilian life, as well as its focus on mentoring veterans who are making that transition.

“Veterans have many of the characteristics we seek in new hires: loyalty to past employers, commitment to ongoing development, experience in team-oriented environments, leadership qualities and a strong work ethic. In addition, veterans bring another element of diversity to PCL’s inclusive culture.”