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Some discussions I've seen and in which I've participated on DailyKos have dealt with girls' and women's experiences related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics  (STEM) education and careers, such as blueisland's and shiobe's. Another diary that is relevant to this discussion, from my perspective, is by 8ackgr0und N015e, which reconsiders the Equal Rights Amendment through the lens of women's ongoing, though now formalized, participation in combat. I've been writing here about Post-Traumatic Growth as it relates to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These topics are not unrelated, as I hope you will discover should you continue reading.

In April of 2009, the National Science Foundation (NSF) facilitated a conversation that needed to take place, which perhaps should already be a part of mainstream discussion among the U.S. education community. On April 13 - 14, 2009, NSF sponsored a workshop that led to the release of a 25-page report Veterans' Education for Engineering and Science focusing on military veterans' increasing future involvement in STEM, in light of enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33). With the drawdown of troops from the wars, eventual budget cuts that will result in declining troop strength across the services, and vast numbers of Active Duty servicemembers returning to civilian life, the billions of dollars available to them through Chapter 33 can represent a vital investment in the nation's future.

First, the NSF report recognizes the nation's past, ongoing and prospective future deficiencies in producing sufficient numbers of qualified individuals to enter and succeed as STEM academic and industrial workforce candidates. Then, it delineates those attributes military veterans possess that could position them to become a major part of the solution to the problem of U.S. performance deficits in STEM education, training and employment. These qualities include technical aptitudes and orientation (complimented by their military training) and potential interest in STEM fields, maturity and experience that potentially set them apart from their peers, and existing educational attainment that actually puts them above many of their peers (93 percent high school graduates and 6 percent with GEDs). Add to these factors the ethnic, cultural and gender diversity in the current U.S. military services (30 percent minorities, 14 percent women, and 10 percent Hispanic), as well as the fact that 98 percent are U.S. citizens, with the rest becoming citizens through expedited processes, and the picture of veterans' potential impact on STEM becomes clearer. Many higher education administrators are intimately aware of the nation's historic struggle to produce and retain STEM majors domestically, as well as the nation's ongoing underrepresentation of women and minorities in the STEM education and industrial marketplaces, which make these data even more intriguing.

NSF is not the only national organization that has realized and promoted military veterans' potential for success in STEM education, research, and career orientation. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published a series of articles in 2008 in its Science Careers publication under the banner "Special: Student Veterans Come Marching Home.". These articles included "Student-Veterans Come Marching Home: Their Return to Studies"  and "Student-Veterans Come Marching Home: A New GI Bill for Scientists."

Although the NSF and AAAS documents are of less currency relative to their focus on the advent of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is now in full force, what they say about the qualities veterans possess and their potential impact on STEM education and the workforce remains crucial. In "A New GI Bill for Scientists," for example, we learn that the World War II-era GI Bill

influenced American science and technology, by helping to contribute to the U.S. workforce 91,000 scientists and 450,000 engineers [who] studied with GI Bill benefits after World War II, including 14 Nobel Prize winners in science.
These observations came from Edward Humes' book, Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream. With today's veterans' highly technical training and the military's emphasis on education, and considering the nation's dire current need to build its STEM education and career infrastructure, should there be a limit on how far U.S. colleges and universities can go to increase their emphasis on veteran student recruitment and retention to address national deficiencies in STEM?

Recalling some of the data in NSF's workshop report, a look at the AAAS article "Their Return to Studies" is also enlightening. While the essay acknowledges veteran students' challenges in readjusting to the college classroom, it also boldly states that their

[m]ilitary service has imbued many of these veterans with valuable practical and technical skills and with qualities of focus, discipline, motivation, and maturity often lacking in students with less worldly experience,
all of which translates into success. Moreover, of the eight students profiled, one is Hispanic and three are women, two of whom are already Ph.D. candidates with the third contemplating a doctorate in science. In all, five of eight of the veterans were in graduate school or had been accepted into Ph.D. programs. While not representing authoritative data, these veterans' stories provide encouragement for institutions contemplating a potential return on their investments in student veterans in STEM programs.

Stepping back for a moment from the impact that these veterans' successes will have on their own lives, consider the broader impact on the education (and the general) community as they serve as role models for so many young students, for both girls and boys, of all races. Their impact is multiplied not only in that they will inspire girls, but girls and boys of all races who will see race as no barrier to academic or career success. Those veterans who succeed in STEM careers, inside and outside of academe, also "educate" society at-large by challenging the backward thinking that we still too often observe among our more reactionary fellow citizens who seem to be unable to accommodate earned success among women or people of color.

As this relates to previous ideas I've shared on this site about Post-Traumatic Growth, my purpose here is more to reconsider student veterans, to veer away for a moment from a primary focus on their service-related adjustment or transition challenges and to consider the strengths they bring with them back to their communities, including the higher education community. Certainly, there is an ever-increasing need to provide aid and comfort for the thousands of veterans, as well as their families, who have endured prolonged and repeated separation, deprivation, and physical and emotional injuries. Through research, education and community service, the higher education community has already begun to play a crucial role in addressing these needs, often for no other reason than it is the right thing to do. Many colleges and universities have adhered wholeheartedly to the notion of "Serving Those Who Have Served." At the same time, such challenges should not deter the education community from aggressively pursuing and recruiting student veterans and allowing them to prove themselves in classrooms after having returned from battlefields. Considering our national needs in STEM fields, and the demands in advancing our education enterprise, alongside student veterans' potential to help the nation meet those needs and demands, this new generation of veterans might find itself once more at the frontlines. This time, however, the frontlines will be at the STEM frontiers.

Originally posted to Military Community Members of Daily Kos on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:58 AM PST.

Also republished by DKos Military Veterans and Community Spotlight.

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