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Source: David Soldan, 785-532-5534, soldan@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Jennifer Torline, 785-532-0847, jtorline@k-state.edu

Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010

K-STATE PROFESSORS USE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION GRANT TO HELP MILITARY VETERANS EARN ENGINEERING DEGREES

MANHATTAN -- Three Kansas State University electrical and computer engineering professors will use a National Science Foundation grant for a project to help military veterans enter the work force at an accelerated pace.

Professors David Soldan, Don Gruenbacher and Noel Schulz will use the $146,000 grant for "From Defense to Degree: Accelerating Engineering Degree Opportunities for Military Veterans." The project offers veterans accelerated undergraduate and graduate programs in electrical engineering, helping them obtain jobs more quickly, especially in energy systems.

The professors developed the idea in conjunction with the Post 9-11 GI Bill, which provides recent military veterans with up to 36 months of educational benefits, including financial support and housing allowances.

K-State's close relationship with Fort Riley and other military institutions, as well as its long-standing reputation as a military-inclusive university, make it an ideal place to develop such a program, Soldan said.

"These military veterans are unbelievably motivated and capable and possess relevant operation experience, making them a great fit for advanced education and occupational opportunity in this technical field," said Soldan, the project's principal investigator. "I think the ability to transition them from military service into the global work force in an efficient way is not only possible -- it is something that we have a responsibility to do."

Soldan personally understands the benefits of the GI Bill -- he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1971-1975, and the bill helped him earn his master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at K-State.

The military project focuses on two areas: to help military veterans earn undergraduate degrees and to help those veterans with bachelor's degrees in related fields earn master's degrees. Veterans will be able to earn the degrees on an accelerated basis, depending on their technical work in the military. The project focuses on electrical engineering, and within that, energy systems, because many veterans have specialized experience in those areas. Soldan said military veterans entering the engineering work force will help address shortages that are forecasted because of retiring engineers.

"One of the things we're trying to do is better understand the existing knowledge level of these veterans because they have been working in technology in relevant operational contexts," Soldan said. "Developing and implementing a tailored curriculum that recognizes their knowledge and experience can serve as a powerful enabler in growing this professional work force, as well as provide excellent career opportunities for former military members."

The program will also provide military veterans with paid internships through the K-State Electrical Power Affiliate Program, which allows electrical power industries to support engineering students in electric power and energy systems. General Dynamics and several affiliates of the program, including Burns & McDonnell, Westar Energy and Omaha Public Power District, have already written letters of support for beginning the military project at K-State.

Schulz, K-State's Paslay professor of electrical and computer engineering, is director of the Electrical Power Affiliate Program, and Gruenbacher is the head of the electrical and computer engineering department. Soldan, Schulz and Gruenbacher will spend the school year gathering a test group of 10 to 12 current students who are veterans and can help develop ideas and provide feedback. The professors plan to have a formal program in place by the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

Although the professors are using the electrical engineering energy systems area as a starting point, they would eventually like to expand the program to other academic areas, including business, economics and foreign languages.

"This project is another compelling opportunity for K-State to employ its military-inclusive approach to ensuring success for our current and future military and veteran students," said retired Army Lt. Col. Art DeGroat, director of military affairs at K-State. "The effort that our engineering faculty are making should well achieve its goals -- and more important, provide needed insights on the national level on how best to help military veterans transition to other lucrative forms of professional service."