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Exploring the Unique Skills and Challenges that Veterans with Disabilities Bring to College: A Qualitative Study in Engineering

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2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 14, 2019

Start Date

April 14, 2019

End Date

April 22, 2019

Conference Session

Track: Collegiate Technical Session 12

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Collegiate

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Michael Scott Sheppard Jr. Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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Michael Scott Sheppard is a graduate research associate pursuing a Master of Science degree in Engineering and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education Systems and Design at Arizona State University. He received a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science degree from Lynchburg College in 2002, after which he served in the military for six years as a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman (SARC) at the 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company. Following military service, Michael obtained a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree from Arizona State University, graduating in 2013. His research and service interests include veterans in engineering, veterans with service-connected disability, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and human sex trafficking.

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Nadia N. Kellam Arizona State University

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Nadia Kellam is Associate Professor in the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University (ASU). She is a qualitative researcher who primarily uses narrative research methods and is interested more broadly in interpretive research methods. In her research, Dr. Kellam is broadly interested in developing critical understandings of the culture of engineering education and, especially, the experiences of underrepresented undergraduate engineering students and engineering educators. In addition to teaching undergraduate engineering courses and a graduate course on entrepreneurship, she also enjoys teaching qualitative research methods in engineering education in the Engineering Education Systems and Design PhD program at ASU. She is deputy editor of the Journal of Engineering Education.

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Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University

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Dr. Samantha R. Brunhaver is an Assistant Professor within The Polytechnic School, one of six schools in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. She is a mixed-methods researcher with focus on the preparation and pathways of engineering students. Her specific research interests include engineering student persistence and career decision-making, early career engineering practice, faculty pedagogical risk-taking, and entrepreneurial mindset. She completed her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Northeastern University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Prior to ASU, she worked as an engineer at A. W. Chesterton, Boston Scientific, and Procter & Gamble.

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Military careers and student life have stark differences. No matter each veteran’s military experiences, the transition from military to college may be fraught with unexpected challenges. Student veterans with disabilities may face additional challenges that uniquely differentiate them from other students. This exploratory research study aims to develop a deeper understanding of the experiences of engineering student veterans with service-connected disabilities as they transition into higher education. To investigate these transitions, we utilized semi-structured narrative interviews with three sophomore engineering students, each with levels of service-connected disability exceeding 30 percent and purposively selected for maximum variability across particular demographic characteristics. In this thematic analysis, we explored the rich narratives of the students’ transitions from military service to becoming undergraduate engineering students by organizing the themes as they mapped to the Schlossberg Transition Theory. Analysis of the interview data showed that student veterans with disabilities face unique challenges both inside and outside the classroom due to dramatic changes in their social support systems and the existence of service-connected disability. However, these students aspire to be successful against all odds, have an elevated work ethic, and employ a heightened level of leadership, teaming, and communication. These assets can be invaluable for student veterans and their peers as they pursue careers in engineering. Results thus indicate that student veterans’ military time and training do lend themselves as useful tools in navigating the transition to undergraduate engineering and ensuring success as engineering students. The identification of these unique skills and challenges affords us a better chance to understand these aspects of transition and to facilitate change that better supports future student veterans with disabilities.

Sheppard, M. S., & Kellam, N. N., & Brunhaver, S. R. (2019, April), Exploring the Unique Skills and Challenges that Veterans with Disabilities Bring to College: A Qualitative Study in Engineering Paper presented at 2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity , Crystal City, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--31763

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