Winning raves for serving those who served

When she arrived on campus in 2018 to take on the role of director for military and veteran student services, Chiquita Loveless had a bold vision — get UNI ranked as one of the top veteran-friendly universities in their category. Her work is already producing results. 

UNI was just elevated from bronze to silver status — meaning it’s in the top 20 percent of universities nationally — for its programs welcoming veterans. And Loveless herself was named as the Military Hero for MercyOne’s 2021 Heroes Among Us, an annual initiative that honors community leaders. Loveless was honored for her commitment in support of improving conditions for veterans on campus and in the community.

“To whom much is given, much is required and I don't take that lightly,” said Loveless in response to these accolades. “Everywhere we go, we leave a legacy. It is always best to leave a  place better than when you got there.”

Loveless is certainly leaving a legacy at UNI. But she said it took the entire campus to help the university recently win silver status from Military Friendly, an organization that ranks institutions’ veteran-friendliness.

“We continually strive to make UNI a welcoming place for everyone - including our military veterans,” said President Mark A. Nook. “Chiquita has done terrific work reaching out to this community of people who have served our country and helped them feel at home here.” 

“I can’t do it alone. It takes a village and I’m so grateful to everyone involved with helping with the success of veterans on campus,” Loveless said. “It takes all of us to help the students succeed, so I am grateful for everyone’s support.”

Loveless took the questionnaire used by Military Friendly to rank schools and used it to guide her work, implementing programs the organization looks for in top-ranked schools. She collaborated with offices across campus to launch new initiatives, like new online programs that help make classes more accessible to military students on deployment.

As director of military and veteran student services, Loveless is a main point of contact for military and veteran students at UNI. She helps connect students to resources to help them transition from military life to student life, and to help with other unique concerns these students face, and at times just provides a listening ear. This often involves her taking extra time to talk one-on-one with students, or sharing her experience working as a Chief Warrant Officer in the Navy.

“My job is not an 8 hour job … my job is 24 hours, because they are veterans and we have camaraderie and we have different needs. I understand them,” she said. “I wear different hats. One day I may be a big sister, one day Chief Warrant Officer, one day I may be mom, and another day I might be their advisor.”

No matter what hat she’s wearing, Loveless always goes beyond the call of duty. 

“Chiquita is very passionate about her work with veterans whether on campus or in the community. She absolutely loves her veteran students at UNI, as I have watched her go above and beyond what is required of her to assist them,” said Black Hawk County VA Director and Chiquita’s husband Yolando Loveless. 

She recalled one particularly powerful moment with a student, Tristan Laue, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer while attending UNI. After developing a rapport with Loveless and other veteran students who frequented the campus veteran center, Laue had a heart attack and would end up bedridden in the Iowa City VA. Loveless made regular visits to comfort Laue, and even arranged for him to be awarded an honorary certificate to him. He passed away shortly after.

“We just wanted to do right by him,” Loveless said. “One thing about Chiquita, she’s going to try and do right.”

She tears up when she thinks of challenging moments like that — but her emotional connection to students is also what keeps her motivated. Loveless has countless success stories and she’s eager to help celebrate students’ wins.

“What makes me the most proud is watching those students go across the stage … it’s all worth it to see them succeed,” she said. “Watching the veteran and military students grow… it’s so rewarding.”

Loveless knows first-hand how rewarding success can be for these students, and the unique challenges they face. She not only has military experience, but also a backstory that reflects the experiences of many military and veteran students. Loveless said she joined the military to help make a better life for herself. She received support and encouragement from her mother, which influenced her decision to join the military in 1983.

“Although I grew up in the inner city, my mother made sure that we went to the more prominent schools,” she said. “I also wanted to get away from my environment. I wanted to better myself and I wanted to see the world. So I joined the Navy.”

She uses her experience today to relate to students facing similar struggles, and provide the same type of support her mother gave her. In fact, Loveless credits her mother with giving her a standard of excellence that drives her work on campus.

“My mom is my hero. She told us to live by the golden rule and taught us to do right by people … it’s just instilled in me that my expectations are  high,” she said. “If I had to leave a legacy, it would be, ‘Chiquita did her best and did right by people.’ You know, you just do the best you can to inspire and try and motivate as you go.”

It’s that standard that has led to her winning accolades — for UNI and for herself. Still, Loveless said she was surprised by the Mercy One award.

“I just do what I do and I don't do it to receive an award or accolades,” she said. “I try and do as much as I can in the community as well, as it is important to give back when we are blessed… we have to support and help one another and advocate and just do right by everyone. That’s what life is about.”

True to form, Loveless is not slowing down, despite these recent accomplishments. She’s still striving for UNI to be named a Gold Military Friendly campus, and is planning a number of new initiatives to help achieve that goal and provide better support to military students. Her ideas include a fund to help support military and veteran students who may need extra financial support, a scholarship for spouses and dependents of veterans, and remedial classes for veterans who need to brush up on core academic skills, after spending their post-high school years serving the country. It’s all part of her mission to help military and veteran students succeed.

“I take a lot of pride in saying I’m a veteran,” she said. “I’m that person to let [veteran students] know, ‘Hey, I’ve walked in your shoes and you are going to be alright.’”