New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Military and Veterans Constituent Committee
Engineering as a Pathway to Reintegration: Student Veterans’ Transition Experience into Higher Education and Civilian Society
This paper explores the experience of 20 engineering student veterans transitioning from the military to higher education, particularly to the field of engineering. We examined student veterans’ motivation to enroll in an engineering program after military service, their major challenges during the transition, and how they envision the engineering profession as a pathway to civilian reintegration.
Background. The Post 9/11 GI Bill enacted in 2009 was the most rewarding educational benefit to date for military service men and women in the United States (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs , 2008; Vacchi, 2012). With this educational benefit, higher education has become an attractive and feasible option for military retirees to gain a quality professional training and reintegrate into civilian society (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 2013). Not surprisingly, several scholars find that college enrollment is a constructive and affirming element in military veterans’ successful integration into civilian society (Mangan, 2009; DiRamio & Jarvis, 2011). However, there is a significant lack of research providing more thorough, concrete understanding about student veterans’ transition to higher education, such as how a specific program in higher education may facilitate their successful reintegration into civilian society.
Methods. Our study is phenomenological research aiming to understand individuals’ interpretations of their life experiences in a specific cultural and social context (Merriam, 2002). All 20 veteran interviewees, 19 Caucasian and one Black male, were engineering students at a large pubic university located in the southeast. All branches of the military were represented in the sample. Data were collected through semi-structured individual and group interviews, which lasted from 45 to 90 minutes. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim for member checking and analysis. Data analysis was collaboratively carried out by a research team consisting of two faculty members and three research assistants. Atlas ti, qualitative analysis software, was used for data analysis.
Results: The majority of student veterans identified a clear connection between their prior military assignments and new professional goal, becoming an engineer. Their military work experiences that required technical knowledge and mechanical skills were the basis for their decision to choose the field of engineering. Participants also acknowledged that specific skills and dispositions that they had gained during military years, such as time management, teamwork, and perseverance, contributed to their academic success in the demanding environment of engineering. Furthermore, student veterans expressed a strong desire to remain and/or reemerge as a contributing member of society; engineering was viewed as a profession that helps sustain their pride and altruistic desire.
Conclusions and Significance. This study highlights higher education as a critical vehicle for student veterans to reintegrate into civilian society. In particular, our findings were derived from a specific disciplinary context, engineering, thus illuminating the process of career decision, made by student veterans in the discipline. Findings would provide useful insights and programmatic implications to other institutions that experience a similar influx of student veterans in their engineering programs.
Lim, J. H., & Tkacik, P. T., & Interiano, C. G., & Dahlberg, J. L., & Nowell, C. E. (2016, June), Engineering as a Pathway to Reintegration: Student Veterans' Transition Experience into Higher Education and Civilian Society Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26620
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