Education Professor Helps Develop Program to Support Veterans Earning Graduate Degrees

Veterans working on engineering project
Monday, December 3, 2018

UNC Charlotte education professor Jae Hoon Lim and a team of researches have earned a $750,000 grant to help attract and support military veterans in earning graduate degrees in STEM disciplines.

Awarded by the Office of Naval Research and Development, the three-year grant is designed to build on the success of UNC Charlotte programs supporting military veterans earning their undergraduate degrees.

The new grant is for the program “Engaging Military Veterans to Increase Engineering Enrollment and B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees Awarded.” The overall goal is to educate military veterans who can go on to work in STEM areas in support of naval research.

“We want to get veterans interested in grad school and research, which will hopefully lead them to careers as military scientists,” said Dr. Peter Tkacik, one of the principal investigators on the project and professor of Mechanical Engineering. “The grant will support teaching assistantship positions, which when combined with military benefits and other tuition support will make it financially possible for vets to get their graduate degrees.”

Dr. Lim’s specialty is compiling data to analyze the impact of educational programs.

“One component we are looking at is the challenges veterans face and how they make the adjustments needed to be successful students,” she said. “They face a number of challenges on cultural levels, because they have a different set of values and expectations. One example is that in higher education you are expected to engage in critical thinking and proactively ask questions, as opposed to the military where you take orders and do as you’re told.”

A part of the first grant was the creation of the course MEGR 3090, Advanced Experimental Methods, which taught the military application of engineering. The new grant will provide funds to purchase additional lab equipment for the expansion of the course.

“MEGR 3090 has been very well received and is a huge success,” Lim said. “The learning outcomes have been outstanding. There has been excellent synergy between veterans and non-veterans in the class.”

Jason Solomon is an early entry mechanical engineering masters student being supported by the new grant. He served in the Army Reserve from 1998 to 2008, and then started his UNC Charlotte studies in 2014.

“I was shocked at first to be around so many young students,” Solomon said. “But because of the program bringing in more veterans like myself, I was also surprised by the diversity of non-traditional students. Now I’m getting the chance to also pursue my graduate degree, which is great.”

Impacts of the first grant include visits to 11 military and academic locations at 36 recruiting events, 15 conference papers, and 31 job offers.

Photo (from left): Jason Solomon, Jerry Dahlberg, Jae Hoon Lim and Peter Tkacik