Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Ensuring Success for Veterans with Disabilities in STEM Degree Programs: Recommendations from a Workshop and Case Study of an Evidence-Based Transition Program

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Ensuring Success for Veterans with Disabilities in STEM Degree Programs: Recommendations from a Workshop and Case Study of an Evidence-Based Transition Program

Article excerpt

I. Background and Literature Review

As of June 2013, over 50,000 have been wounded or injured in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 2013). After incurring injuries or illness, service members in military treatment facilities receive excellent medical care (Ainspan & Penk, 2008; Army Wounded Warrior Program, 2010). As service members transition to veteran status and move beyond medical rehabilitation to vocational rehabilitation, through the VA and the state Vocational Rehabilitation services, they could benefit from structured activities that encourage reintegration into civilian community.

The benefit of veterans' interest in pursuing degrees in STEM extends beyond the veterans themselves. Undergraduate engineering education in the United States is reaching a critical shortage with alarmingly low prospective enrollment rates. Currently, only 9% of high school SAT takers express an interested in the discipline (The College Board, 2012). Reports show that active duty service members and veterans returning to school may not follow the same trend. The General Technical scores, which are derived from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and are used to assess qualifications for enlistment, reveal that 72% of active-duty enlisted recruits in 2011 scored at or above the median on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, a test of cognitive aptitude, compared to 51.1% of civilians (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, 2011). This high score can be interpreted as an indicator of aptitude in STEM. In addition, as non-traditional students with a unique set of experiences and life perspectives, having more veterans on campus promotes cultural diversity within academia.

Through military service, veterans have learned teamwork, selfless sacrifice, accomplishing missions, and working through challenges.Thus, military experiences are a strong foundation for veterans wishing to pursue higher education for veterans with academic aspirations. The newest edition of the GI Bill (also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill) provides 36-month coverage for higher education and is offering one of the most comprehensive benefits packages in history, thereby encouraging more active duty members and veterans to pursue college degrees. The GI Bill also provides a Tutorial Assistance Program, which helps provide additional tutoring, up to $1200 of services, if the student is enrolled at least half-time. It has been shown that college degree holders earn on average over 15 to 20 thousand dollars more than those with a high school diploma (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Educators can convey strategies how veterans can manage their resources to meet their future career goals. Veterans with disabilities (VWDs) may be eligible for services through the VA Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program and through the state vocational rehabilitation programs.

For VWDs, transition to an academic environment is filled with barriers. Navigating university bureaucracies, the uncertainty of credit transfer requirements, and understanding the GI Bill benefits may discourage them from pursuing and/ or completing higher education (Madaus et al., 2009). Only 22% of colleges with services for veterans (which by definition include active-duty students) provide transition assistance, defined as linking together services that would otherwise be offered independently of each other; only two out of five provide training opportunities for faculty and staff (using materials such as those provided by Kognito, 2012) to better assist veterans with transition-related issues (Redden, 2009). However, there are many support systems that are suggested to have a positive impact on the retention of VWDs including mentors, involvement with student veteran cohorts, and rehabilitation support, all of which encourage their success as students. …

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