BTU #212 - Founding The Institute of Veterans and Military Families (Michael Haynie, Ph.D)

During my time teaching at the Air Force Academy, I really fell in love with what I was doing. I was excited to come to work every day and I loved being around the cadets. The responsibility associated with education was empowering and inspiring to me. When that assignment was coming to an end, I was supposed to go to Crystal City, VA and run an acquisition program. I just couldn’t reconcile hanging around for 6 more years just to get to 20 years when I knew I had found something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
— Dr. Michael Haynie

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Why Listen:
Michael is among the top thought leaders in the veteran transition space. In this interview, we talk about how IVMF is solving transition problems and opening transition pathways for veterans and their families. We talk about business ownership as well as credentialing and licensing programs. We talk about entrepreneurship, and how fear is the biggest obstacle on this path. We talk about how the military trains people to be planners, and how this can be a major obstacle to success. And we talk about the cure: small, actionable steps.

About Mike:
Dr. Mike Haynie is the Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives & Innovation at Syracuse University. He is also the founding Executive Director of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. The IVMF is the nation’s first, interdisciplinary academic institute focused purposefully on informing and impacting the policy, economic, wellness, and social concerns the nation’s veterans and their families. Today the IVMF’s educational programs directly impact more than 35,000 veterans and family members annually, and the IVMF is widely acknowledged as the nation’s hub of academic thought leadership related to the post-service concerns of America’s veterans and military-connected families. Michael started out as an officer in the Air Force, where he served for 14 years. Mike also serves as an appointed member of the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment, Training, and Employer Outreach, and as a member of the advisory committee for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Veterans Coming Home project.

Our Sponsors: 

  • This episode is sponsored by Lockheed Martin. At Lockheed Martin, veterans are at the center of everything they do — in fact, one in five of their employees has served in uniform. Lockheed Martin is proud to help men and women like you successfully transition into civilian careers. Join Lockheed Martin and you will find opportunities to take on the same kind of long-term challenging assignments you tackled while in the military.  Whether you’re on active duty, transitioning or already embarking on your civilian career, Lockheed Martin’s Military Connect is your online community for professional support. You can find out more at

  • StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.

  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at

Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Syracuse, New York is Dr. Michael Haynie. Mike is the Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at Syracuse University. He is also the founding Executive Director of IVMF - the nation’s first interdisciplinary academic institute that is focused on informing and impacting on policy and concerns of our nation's veterans. Today IVMF education programs impact over 35,000 veterans annually. Mike served for 14 years as an officer in the Air Force.


What lead you to found the Institute for Veterans and Military Families?

I wish I could say it was all part of a strategic plan but that wouldn't be very authentic. I got out of the military in 2006. During my time in Air Force I earned my Ph. D. and became a teacher at the Air Force Academy. I got out of the Air Force because I fell in love with teaching and higher education. I came to Syracuse but I missed the sense of community and being part of something bigger than myself. So I started a small program in our business school focused on opening the door to veterans to start small businesses. It turned out to be more impactful than any of us thought. It kept getting bigger and we launched new programs for female veterans and veteran families. During this time, I realized that higher education frequently does not focus on veterans. Syracuse has a long history serving veterans and I wanted to increase that impact. I wanted to create an institute that focuses on veterans and their families. So six years ago we launched IVMF.


You got out of the military at 14 years. Can you walk us through that decision?

I’ve gotten asked this question many times, including by the Secretary of the Air Force. I was going to do five years and get out but the Air Force kept opening doors for me and I loved what I was doing. I landed at the Air Force Academy as a teacher and I truly loved it. I loved being around the cadets and the responsibility that goes along with education. When that assignment was coming to an end, I was supposed to go to Crystal City, VA and run an acquisition program. I just couldn’t reconcile hanging around for 6 more years and get to 20 years when I knew I had found something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I made the hard decision to get out at 14 years and make the transition to civilian higher education.

It was not without periods of regret. I did have moments thinking “what have I done”. But my current role allows me to maintain that connection with the military. I’ve found a good balance between the military community and the civilian higher education community.


Can you talk more about your work at IVMF?

When you hear the term “institute”, you immediately jump to heavy research and analysis. IVMF does that but more generally, it tries to solve transition problems. As you mentioned, we design, develop, and deliver programs that are designed to facilitate a successful transition. It’s everything from classes to credentialing opportunities. We also work with private industries to plug veteran owned businesses into those large companies supply chains. Everything we offer is free. Right from the beginning, one of our founding principles was that corporate partners would fund our programs so that there isn’t a financial barrier for veterans to participate.

One of our most popular programs is the Veteran Transition Program. This program allows veterans access to various training that will make them more in demand in the civilian market. We’ll even pay for your fee to sit for credentialing exams.

One of the core transition challenges is navigating all of the noise in this space. There are so many programs and organizations out there. Many service members and families are not prepared for this.


Do you have any advice for veterans on how they can best find resources that are well suited for them?

It’s not an easy question because there are so many dimensions to this issue. You need to identify the different organizations out there and also evaluate the value of each of these organizations.

In the years after 9/11, we saw a tremendous increase in veteran serving non-profits. During this time, it was easy for these nonprofits to generate funding but there was never a focus on the efficacy on the programming of these organizations. It’s only been in the past few years that there has been more of a focus on how effective these organizations are. So I would encourage transitioning military members to do their due diligence on various organizations. The more data you can collect, the better off you will be. Ask people around you that have used these organizations. Peer to peer feedback can be very valuable.

At the end of the day, my job is to empower someone else’s aspirations. We’re very fortunate that there are so many resources out there to help veterans and we need to position veterans in a way that they are able to connect with resources that are best able to allow them to succeed.


How can veterans best make sense of all the resources available to them?

There’s something to be said for testing the market. There’s a lot of focus right now on retention. There have been multiple studies on how much retention veterans experience in their first job after the military. The numbers aren’t great. Only 54% of veterans stay in their first job for more than one year. But a lot of this is veterans that are testing the market to see what could be a good fit for them. There’s nothing wrong with this. Folks are often in a hurry. But at the same time, there are so many options. So make sure you’re taking your time and picking the best option for you.


Do you have any advice for people looking to start their own company?

It’s a lot of what we’ve talked about before - doing your due diligence and research beforehand. But the biggest barrier for people looking to launch a venture is fear. There’s a quote from Martin Luther King that I use a lot is, “Take the first step in faith.” Just take that first step. Veterans are uniquely talented in the area of entrepreneurship. They are used to creating success when facing resources constraints. That being said, though, the military also trains people to be planners. At some point, you just need to pull the trigger and take entrepreneurial action. When that doesn’t happen, what’s often behind it is fear. But if you do it right in a why where you’re not trying to go from 0 to 100 in three months, you can launch a business in a way that doesn’t confer as much risk as you think.

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs that have gone through our program were young enlisted Marines. I didn’t understand why at first. But I think it is the persistence that they have through all of the pain. Some of these people have gone on to build remarkable businesses.


How can veterans take advantage of the services provided by IVMF?

The best thing that folks getting out of the military can do is take advantage of our programs. Everything we do is well described on our website. You can also connect with us on our social media platforms. Our program benefits from our veterans’ success. That keeps us going and gives us a story to take to the folks that provide financial resources for us.

We describe transition as your entire post-service life. The programs and resources we have are available to any veteran regardless of service area.


Syracuse University is building a National Veteran Resource Center. Can you talk more about this?

We broke ground in January on a $63 million project. It’s a building that is going to house IVMF and will provide all kinds of resources for veterans. There will be conferences and forums hosted there that will work to address veteran issues.

Syracuse University has a remarkable history of service to veterans. In 1945, the Syracuse University Chancellor wrote a one-page letter to all veterans offering them enrollment. What IVMF has committed to today is to honor that legacy by supporting this generation’s veterans. Today we have over 1500 student veterans and active duty military members.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?

I’m extremely passionate about veterans in higher education. Five years ago there were high rates of unemployment among veterans. In response, there was an unprecedented wave of veteran programs at corporations to address this issue. Something that bothers me is that I haven’t seen a similar push among universities.

If you look at the top 150 undergraduate universities, many of them have just a small number of veterans. To me, this is shameful. I want universities to come to the table and provide opportunities for veterans to make progress toward a college degree.

College and universities can be a great opportunity for military members to re-integrate themselves into society. But many service members and veterans are in a position where the doors to higher education have been closed to them. To me, it’s imperative that we open these doors.