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USF student to bike for veterans

TAMPA, Fla. -- Kiersten Downs is a veteran, activist and athlete and her passion for encouraging and inspiring fellow student veterans is a powerful force in her next mission: pedaling her road bike across the country, from San Francisco to Washington D.C., in a momentous effort to support the veteran transition from military to university life.

“It’s an important topic for me because I am very inspired by higher education in general,” said Downs, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida. “It’s a passion of mine; it’s what has gotten me to this point in my life.”

Downs’ focus with her Bike America Student Veterans Ride for Education is to raise awareness and funding for the national nonprofit Student Veterans of America, which is a coalition of over 800 peer-run student organizations across the country, on campuses all across the U.S.

According to Downs, “the importance of these peer-run organizations is they can really be used as vehicles of social change at the university setting from the ground up. These are students coming together with a unified voice to accomplish goals that they’ve set, university wide.”

Through Bike America, Downs plans to ride more than 3,800 miles from San Francisco to Washington D.C., linking up with different cycling groups from Student Veterans of America across the country, completing her journey at the headquarters of Student Veterans of America.

At USF Downs is working in applied anthropology to research the reintegration and transition of student veterans into higher education. As she travels through her own transition from the Air Force into civilian life, she believes that action will power the shift in awareness.

“The fact that the work that I do in anthropology is applied; the work that I do is with the community. This is a community that I belong to, this is a community that I care about,” Downs said.

“This is the power of voice; this is the power of a unified mission. We’re here to provide advocacy and support for veterans to graduate and to give them the power and support to succeed after they graduate.”

That message caught the attention of producers from the new mtvU show Random Acts, who wanted to bring attention to the ride and help Downs share her story. The crew showed up on campus at USF with much more than Downs expected.

“I was in go mode, when they said they were coming, I had to fit it in between the 30 page research paper that I’m writing. So I was excited. Then when they surprised me during the cycling boot camp class where all the USF Student Veterans of America members were present, I didn’t know what to expect. It was very… the crew did a good job because I had no idea that that was what was coming.”

The mtvU crew brought a special message from Nick Cannon and the show’s host showered Downs with duffel bags of supplies to enhance her ride and help her reach her goal. A Garmin GPS, GoPro camera and a few other generous gifts; including a $1,000 gift card to help her mother fuel the RV that will be following along as a support vehicle.

The show’s segment aired on Wednesday, May 8.

Downs and Bike America will take off June 1 from San Francisco, cruising across the country for a remarkable journey and an inspirational cause.

“It’s really interesting when you tell someone you’re biking across the country because if they are not cyclists their first reaction is like, ‘oh my goodness, you’re crazy, I would never do that.’ But I also think that it is inspiring people to maybe think about their own goals and maybe think about what it is that they want to accomplish.”


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Anthropology Student Success   
Author: Katy Hennig