Veterans director leads fight against invisible enemy on campus

October 19, 2020

Jason Burke Headshot Outdoors

Jason Burke has devoted his life to service. He served his nation as a member of the U.S. Navy for more than two decades — as a naval aviator and, later, as a commanding officer, where he left his mark as a distinguished pilot and esteemed educator. The university quickly felt his impact when he was named director of veteran and military affairs seven years ago, and helped Quinnipiac gain the recognition as No. 1 most military friendly four-year university in the United States that offers doctoral degrees by the non-profit Military Friendly.

So it was no wonder why members of the university's senior leadership team tapped Burke to lead its contact-tracing efforts when the university found itself on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19.

Burke and Wendy Sewack, assistant director of our School of Medicine's Global Public Health Program, serve as the university's contact tracing co-directors. They manage 20 volunteer contact-tracers.

Earlier this week, Burke got a call just after 6 a.m. with details of 20 new students with positive COVID-19 results. He immediately sprang into action beginning the process of understanding who they may have infected.

"It's an honor — and somewhat exhausting — to be able to help protect and keep our campus community safe," Burke said. "We're doing everything possible to stop this virus, and I am proud of all of the individuals who have stepped up to serve."

His years of service and collaboration with others have prepared him for this moment.

Always humble, Burke stressed that he was proud to work alongside those that stepped up to serve from across the university — with great collaboration with the public safety and facilities teams.

Following his retirement from the U.S. Navy in 2013, Burke co-founded Kids of America’s Heroes, an organization built to help children of military service members cope with fear, loss and grief during their parents’ deployment. 

During more normal times, Burke serves as an advocate for current and prospective student-veterans. He does everything he can to ensure a smooth transition to the university for our nation’s military heroes — and his support does not stop upon admission. 

For his efforts, he was awarded Quinnipiac’s most prestigious staff award, Center for Excellence in Service to Students, earlier this semester.

On many occasions, Burke has set up personal tutors for students struggling with their schoolwork. 

“When Jason sees a need for veterans on campus, he’s the first one to go and put everything on the line to ensure that we get the resources we need to have a successful college career,” said a veteran on campus.

One place on campus particularly meaningful for student veterans is the Ready Room. It is a safe space that was set up by Burke for veterans on campus to share experiences with one another and discover the bond of military service that exists beyond leaving the armed forces.

“Jason serves as an extraordinary role model to all students and possesses the qualities that we look for in a mentor: integrity, optimism, leadership, kindness, and compassion,” said Julia Chianelli, MS ’20.

Burke has helped secure millions of dollars in support for Quinnipiac's veterans for causes that include rehabilitation for physical and mental disabilities following service, and has worked to expedite veterans’ educations by providing payment for non-traditional winter and summer semesters. 

“Success is being able to navigate the tactical mission — day-to-day — while driving to meet the strategic, long-range goals," Burke explained. "I’d say we’ve been successful, but the path is not linear for our long-range goals.”

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