UNLV student and U.S. Air Force veteran Andrew Ho, president of Rebel Vets, was recognized as America’s 2020 Student Veteran of the Year by Student Veterans of America. Here’s his story. –By Brian Hurlburt, Host, Magnifying Excellence Podcast.
After seven years in the U.S. Air Force, and deployments to Kuwait and Niger, Ho left the military in Fall 2017 and enrolled at UNLV for the subsequent spring semester. At the time, Ho was taking classes in business and hospitality, wanting to build on his experience with the services career field in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a military cook and oversaw the functioning of fitness centers and dining and lodging facilities. Ho was looking for a way to connect and decided to get involved with Rebel Vets, an organization whose mission is to empower student veterans. In January 2020, he took over as president, just in time to help lead the organization through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“His leadership has been phenomenal during this entire time,” said Ross Bryant, executive director of UNLV’s Military and Veterans Services, in a UNLV.edu article. “He deliberately led his team with a service to community mindset, reaching out to veterans safely and getting them connected as a way to combat feelings of isolation, despair, and loneliness.”
That dedication and his perseverance are two of the traits that helped him earn the national recognition.
“Personally, this award reaffirms that I’m heading in the right direction and further inspires me to do great things and make a difference,” he said. “It opens my eyes to allow me to see how much we as veterans mean to the Las Vegas community. And that makes me think about expanding our vision. Who else can we connect with? Who else can we help, who is not being heard?”
The reason for getting involved for Ho was that he “wanted to pay it forward and actively engage with incoming student vets from across majors and around campus — linking them with campus and community resources.”
He accomplished his mission and continues to serve.
“With any organization, the pandemic had a huge impact,” Ho said. “That person-to-person connection was disconnected, and we had to think fast.”
Rebel Vets provided professional development and mental health courses in a virtual format with help from military-connected partners in the community. Ho organized a weekly, socially distanced hike for student veterans, and volunteer opportunities with organizations like Three Square, Share Village, and Bowling with Blue. Other community partners include organizations like Merging Vets and Players, Horses 4 Heroes, Caesars Salute, UNLV CSUN, and Adopt-A-Cop. Ho has also organized events that have allowed members of Rebel Vets to advocate for student veteran concerns, and he’s working on plans with fellow members to create a veterans lounge on campus — a one-stop-shop where student veterans feel a sense of belonging and home.
Ho is the second UNLV student veteran to earn the designation of Student Veteran of the Year from Student Veterans of America. Alexandria Sawin was named the 2018 Student Veteran of the Year.
“I’m thrilled, and it’s a credit to the entire veteran community effort that we have built here at UNLV,” Bryant said. “It’s been nine years of taking care of 1,800 veterans every semester, and getting resources to veterans in need. We’ve always maintained a sense of continued service, and since being at UNLV, but particularly this past year, Andrew was a big part of that — being on the front lines, taking care of people.”
Photo courtesy Andrew Ho and UNLV.