Sylvia O’Hara joins Westminster’s staff as the new executive director for the Center for Veteran and Military Services.
O’Hara was born in Woodruff, Utah (a farming community located up north) and spent most her childhood there. Upon graduating high school, O’Hara enlisted in the Utah Army National Guard and served for six years. During her service, she met her spouse and also graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelors in mass communication.
This July, O’Hara was appointed as the executive director for the new veterans center on Westminster’s campus. From co-organizing a documentary shedding light on female veterans to planning Veterans Day events at the University of Utah, O’Hara has an extensive background in helping veterans.
“I started by helping other [military] spouses through the [deployment] process,” said O’Hara when talking about her first experience with helping veterans.
She said she found it hard to find people who could relate to her situation. Because of this, she said she wanted to reach out to military spouses and be the support they needed. O’Hara said this was an unexpected path for her to take, but also a rewarding one for her.
Before joining Westminster, O’Hara was part of the University of Utah’s Veterans Support Center. While there, she met a group looking to gain more knowledge on how to effectively run a veterans center (hint: it was a group from Westminster).
“Westminster has a great reputation, and I was impressed with how intentional and thoughtful they were at getting this [center] right,” O’Hara said.
Westminster College’s President Steve Morgan played a vital role in selecting the executive director, and after interviewing multiple candidates, he determined O’Hara was the perfect fit for the job.
“We were really fortunate that she applied,” Morgan said. “We liked her immediately. She is not a rookie. She hits the ground running…I think our veterans will connect with her.”
Three years ago, former staff members suggested the idea of a veterans and military student center. After countless meetings and visits to other Utah higher education veterans centers, Westminster created its own.
Safia Keller, director of corporate relations, has been part of this process since the beginning. She is a driving force behind acquiring funding for the center. Keller was on the tour of the University of Utah’s veterans center, where she first met O’Hara.
When asked about O’Hara, Keller said she immediately knew she had the personality to make Westminster’s new center succeed.
O’Hara said she hopes the center will provide a place for veterans and military students to share similar experiences and feel accepted.
“My favorite part is working with students,” O’Hara said. “I think it is enjoyable to see students bloom. They learn the ropes, learn what they want to do and excel.”
The new center is located in Walker Hall, and an opening ceremony was held on Friday, September 11.