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New Program Aims to SERVE Veterans, Boost STEM Research

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Tennessee has a long history of supporting the military, with the origin of the state’s nickname, its flagship university, and schools across the state attesting to the willingness of its citizens to serve in the nation’s military in times of need.

Now, the University of Tennessee has found another way to support its veterans through a new program initiated by a grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR): the Shaping Experiential Research for Veteran Education program (SERVE), which aims to engage veterans in experiences that address research priorities of the US Navy and boost the number of veterans with graduate degrees in STEM fields.

SERVE is an extension of a similar ONR-supported program at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, that has been successful in supporting veterans in that state. The two major components of SERVE include a focus on mentoring and summer undergraduate research experiences.

“One of the key components to this whole concept is the idea of establishing mentor-mentee relationships, which could also include active duty personnel and ROTC cadets,” said program lead and Associate Vice Chancellor for Strategic Research Initiatives Bruce LaMattina. “Those relationships, along with the hands-on research that our students conduct, will provide a valuable holistic experience for program participants.”

Student research projects will start in 2021 and be chosen based on relevance to the military and from businesses that support military missions and goals. Participants will also have the chance to work on projects with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12, among others.

“This program is a win for the students, the Navy, UT, and our partners at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte,” said LaMattina. “The Volunteer spirit is here at UT and this program will allow us to serve and prepare those whose own service protects our freedom.”

SERVE was awarded $750,000 over three years from the ONR Navy and Marine Corps STEM Education and Workforce program.

“Veteran women and men are a growing national resource encompassing capabilities and experiences beyond those obtainable in civilian life,” said Michael Simpson, director of education and workforce at ONR. “SERVE is a strategic partnership that will enable further development of select individuals, their mentors, their institutions, and national security.”

“By involving veterans in STEM research, we hope that they will bring their experiences and willingness to serve to help the drive towards developing new and innovative future Naval capabilities,” said Margo Staruch, a research physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, which will provide research mentorship and guidance to SERVE participants. “I look forward to collaborating with the students to help them advance their own careers and advance potential new capabilities for our military.”

LaMattina said the initial goal is to have nine or 10 students enter the program per year, with two or three scholarships available when the program launches, along with two graduate research assistantships. Recruiting efforts to draw students into the program will be closely coordinated with the Veterans Resource Center and the Division of Diversity and Engagement.

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