25 Years | 25 Stories of NAVREF
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25 Years | 25 Stories of NAVREF
Since 1992, the National Association of Veterans' Research and Education Foundations has worked to support our members to become a source of excellence for VA Research and Development. Over the course of 2017, NAVREF will be promoting 25 stories from our members, friends, and stakeholders recounting our unique heritage, culture, and spirit.  

Our Twentieth Story: From Zero to Here, Oh?

Hawk Tran
NAVREF Operations Officer

Zero. That’s how much knowledge I had about the National Association of Veterans’ Research and Education Foundations when I first started in 2014. To me, it was a mouthful of words to say over the phone when people called-in to the office (within days I started using, “Thank you for calling NAVREF” instead). I had zero knowledge of research administration; VA jargon seemed more complex than military jargon; and I had no clue what “NPC” stood for. My only VA experience up until that point was with my GI Bill. On my first day, all I knew was that my predecessor had left in a hurry and there were mountains of documents and files scattered all over her desk. So, with no orientation and a lot of assumptions expected of me by the executive director, I began to dig through each pile of information to absorb as much as I could to better understand what I was getting myself into.  My background was in public health, and I had zero concept of how the words “VA-Affiliated Nonprofit Corporation” mixed in with letters such as “IPA”, “IDC”, “VERA”, “ORD”, “NPPO”, etc. Needless to say, the learning curve was very steep. However, in the process of filing and organizing the sea of documents I was swimming in, I became acquainted with the wonderfully complex community known as the VA-Affiliated Nonprofit Corporation, and learned to appreciate the incredibly critical part the NPCs played in VA research. 

As time went on, I learned more about NAVREF’s history and the many roles it played to support the NPCs. NAVREF fostered a strong unified NPC community that worked together to further one common mission. A community that brought-in billions of dollars to VA research, and a community that was truly welcoming and supportive of outsiders like me joining their organization with zero knowledge. The NPCs were unique and there was nothing else that existed to unify and further this group outside of NAVREF. 

I was motivated to be a productive part of this community, but with no real useful background, I did what any other naive millennial would do - I turned into a knowledge-sponge and did what I could with my “generational” skills to support NAVREF beyond my administrative duties. I learned website maintenance. I learned how to handle member relations. I learned Hill activities. You name it, I probably had to learn it. All of these operational aspects became woven into my day-to-day, and I thank NAVREF for everything I learned along the way. NAVREF placed its trust in me to do my best for the organization, and in-turn, afforded me the opportunity to learn so many new things beyond my world of public health. 

Fast-forward to just over three years, and I am still astounded by the resilience of the NPCs and the work NAVREF continues to do to support the overall research mission. I have seen NAVREF go through many positive changes during my short tenure, with each leader asking me to accomplish unique challenges that I never envisioned myself doing - from office Feng Shui to Hill advocacy, or even migrating an entire physical office to a virtual one. Each task NAVREF has asked me to do has not only pushed my growth, but also the organization’s growth one step further. 

Reflecting back, I’m left wondering where the organization will be in the next 25 years, and who will have the next opportunity to grow with NAVREF.
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