“One of TC’s Most Important Moments”: Launching the new Resilience Center for Veterans & Families
Teachers College celebrated the official launch of its new Resilience Center for Veterans & Families last week in what TC President Susan Fuhrman called “one of the most important moments in the history of the College.” Held in the legendary Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, the event was attended by top military leaders, private and corporate funders, veterans, and leaders in academic research and psychological treatment.
Funded through a generous gift by David and Maureen O’Connor, the Resilience Center is directed by George Bonanno, TC Professor of Clinical Psychology. The Center will pair groundbreaking research on human emotional resilience with clinical training of students to assist veterans and their families as they transition back to civilian life. The training will take place through TC’s nationally regarded Dean Hope Center for Educational & Psychological Services, directed by Dinelia Rosa, and will serve as a magnet for other TC faculty members who work with veterans.
“What we are trying to do with this center is completely new – it’s innovative and unique among pretty much all approaches geared toward veterans,” said Bonanno, one of the world’s leading authorities on human resilience to loss and trauma. “So much of the mental health focus on veterans is typically viewed through one lens, and one lens only – post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The dominant thinking is: first identify PTSD, and then treat PTSD.”
Focusing on Transition
The new center will map the full landscape of veterans’ transition from military to civilian life, Bonanno said, asking questions such as: How do veterans successfully navigate that transition? When they suffer, what is it that goes wrong? “Once we have a better way to answer these questions – once we focus beyond PTSD to examine the transition experiences of all veterans – then we open the door to new ideas and new ways to support all veterans.” (Read more about groundbreaking research that Bonanno is leading through the TC Resilience Center.)
David O’Connor, who is Senior Managing Partner, High Rise Capital Partners, LLC, and a member of the Investment Committee of TC’s Board of Trustees, echoed that prediction, telling the audience, “Once you see the Resilience Center in action, I am confident you will see Teachers College as I do: as a game-changer for veterans, who have given so much, and who have so much more to give.”
“Maureen and I felt compelled to support this initiative because the brave men and women of the armed services have had our backs, and we view the Center as a way for society to return the favor and say ‘thanks, now we’ve got yours and your families’ backs, too – not just this year or next, but for the long haul.”
O’Connor thanked TC Board Co-Chair William Dodge Rueckert for introducing him to Bonanno, Rosa and TC doctoral student Joseph Geraci, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army who is now studying a program called Pro Vetus (formerly associated with the organization Battle Buds) to evaluate the benefits of peer mentoring for returning veterans.
“What a stroke of genius on Bill’s part,” O’Connor said. “Right away, I saw the potential for a very special project that would combine all of my interests together.”
A "Bilingual" Approach
Geraci, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, described himself as “bilingual.”
“First, I speak Infantry,” he said. “I know what it is like to feel responsible for the death of comrades under your command, to lose very close friends, to feel guilty about leaving my family, to engage the enemy in close battle, and to go to a mental health provider and admit that I need help as well as grow from the experience. I also speak mental health provider. I am the proud graduate of three different Teachers College programs and have spent over 3,000 hours providing counseling for emergency service personnel, veterans and their families.”
As he paced the Oak Room stage, Geraci quipped that, “as an infantry officer, I don’t like to be in a static, defensive posture.”
The line drew a laugh from the audience, but for Fuhrman it resonated as an apt description of an institution that throughout its history has not only anticipated society’s most pressing challenges but also tackled them head on.
“TC founder Grace Dodge was said to have the one hundred year view’ in supporting the creation of new institutions that could meet the most difficult problems for generations to follow,” said Fuhrman. “I’m so proud that TC is once again taking the long view as we embark on this critically important opportunity to make a positive difference for veterans and their families.”
The evening began with a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful,” sung by TC Music & Music Education alumna Colette Young (M.A. ’15) , with backing from saxophonist Tim Sullivan and bassist Jeff Koch (Ed.M. ’15), both of the Music &Music Education program. It closed with the equally stirring remarks by Retired Brigadier General Loree Sutton, Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs and formerly the U.S. military’s highest-ranking psychiatrist.
Sutton served in the Middle East and later commanded the Army medical center at Fort Hood, Texas from 2005 to 2007.
“Every third day we had to tell a family that their loved one was not coming home,” she said, “and every day, we had to tell families that that their loved one was coming home but not as he or she had left it.”
Sutton, who subsequently served as the Founding Director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, noted that men and women in the military today are serving multiple deployments of up to 1,500 days – significantly more than during any other period in American history – and fighting under conditions that differ sharply from the past. “In World War II, the enemy at least had the decency to wear a uniform – and at least there was a front line.”
Beyond "Known Boundaries"
Sutton said she accepted her current role in New York City – home to 200,000 veterans – “because I knew that if you could make something big and bold happen here, the rest of the world would take note.” Now, she added, she is becoming “an evangelist for Teachers College, because this is an institution that has not been afraid to press beyond known boundaries.”
Teachers College has a longstanding relationship with the military, including collaboration since 2005 with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on a joint master’s degree program in social-organizational psychology for West Point officers. More than 200 officers have completed the program, which prepares leaders to incorporate the principles of learning agility to foster greater collaboration and cooperation among cadets. The co-founder of the program, TC’s W. Warner Burke, Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology & Education, received a special shout-out from Geraci, who called him “one of the world’s leading gurus on leadership and organizational change.” Burke currently serves on a Blue Ribbon advisory panel of health care and innovation leaders that will assess the quality of hospital care, medical services and other health care processes in Veterans Administration medical facilities.
Geraci also acknowledged TC alumna Irene Trowell-Harris, U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard Major-General (retired), who capped a 38-year military career with a White House appointment to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans. Trowell-Harris was the first African-American woman in the history of the National Guard to be promoted to general officer.
And Geraci also saluted Goldman-Sachs, Verizon and Starbucks – three corporations that are recognized leaders in supporting veterans. Then, in perhaps the evening’s most moving moment, he asked all the veterans in the room to stand. “You are the heroes who have left your homes and families to protect all of us, and to make sure that our way of life continues,” he said, and then a moment later asked their family members to stand as well. “You are truly the unsung heroes. That is why we deliberately named the center the Resilience Center for Veterans and Families.” Geraci turned to the audience. “And thank you, the citizens who support the Veterans and their families. I can tell you, speaking from personal experience, that your appreciation and commitment to a brighter future for all veterans mean so much and it matters.”
-- Joe Levine
Published Monday, Nov 9, 2015