From one veteran liaison position and a single cubicle in the Office of Admissions to a full-service standalone resource center, the Office of Military Services (OMS) at George Mason University has grown to support the more than 3,500 military-affiliated students.
The person behind this effort: Jennifer Connors, founding director of OMS.
“Jennifer has been the visionary and architect of everything ‘veteran’ within the Mason community,” said Ryan Barnett, OMS’ associate director.
Connors, a former chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, said: “My job for a very long time in the military was taking care of people.”
Connors is the first recipient of the Admiral John Harvey Career Achievement in Military Education Excellence Award, which was presented by the Virginia Department of Veteran Services in September.
This honor is awarded to an employee of an education or training facility who is directly involved in the delivery of military education programs and has worked at least five years with military-related students while demonstrating dedication and leadership in providing quality service, leadership, and innovation.
“Jennifer and her team have created an inclusive, supportive environment for members of the military community in OMS,” Alan Byrd, Mason’s dean of admissions, said. “It makes all the difference in the world for our students.”
The award is special, Connors said, because it coincides with her 10 years of service at Mason.
“I have an incredible staff and student veteran population that got me to this point,” Connors said. “It’s reflective of our community as a whole.”
Since she was hired in 2011 as the first director of military services at Mason and the first female director of a college veteran center in Virginia, Connors’ role as a servant leader hasn’t faltered.
“She works tirelessly to remove barriers for students and to position them for success at Mason and beyond,” Byrd said.
Connors said her work never feels like a job.
“I'm serving my country by continuing our mission here at Mason to make sure that our veteran population is supported and a part of our community and successful,” she said.
Connors does everything from providing student counseling sessions for benefits and academic support to giving feedback on legislation to Congress.
In November, Connors helped launch OMS’ partnership with Mason’s LGBTQ+ Resources Center. She also aided in creating Mason’s Military, Veterans, and Family Initiative (MVFI), a one-stop shop for Mason veteran support services ranging from mental health resources to legal and recreational support.
Connors said the guiding principle at OMS is “you don’t leave anyone behind.”
Connors enlisted in the Air Force in June 1995, transitioned to the Air Force Reserve in 2010, and retired from the Reserve in July 2020. She became the first female chief master sergeant of the Force Generation Center while serving as superintendent from June 2018 until her retirement.
“Through her tireless efforts, initiative, and leadership, Jennifer Connors sets the standard for military education professionals,” Barnett said.