National Think Tank focuses on Veterans with Disabilities and New Careers in STEM

UMKC Institute for Human Development (MO-UCEDD) Hosts Transition STEM: A Wounded Warriors Think Tank

September 15, 2011

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Transition STEM: A Wounded Warriors Think Tank, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and co-hosted by the UMKC Institute for Human Development (MO-UCEDD) and the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering, took place in Kansas City on July 27-28, 2011.

Participants included experts in the fields of higher education policy, disability service and research, veteran research, veteran services, and higher education recruitment and retention, as well as veterans with service-connected disabilities ("wounded warriors"), military personnel, private sector STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industry representatives, and the National Science Foundation.

Using an innovative approach, the think tank convened national leaders to develop recommendations and action steps that higher education and industry can take to support Wounded Warriors interested in careers in the STEM fields.  

 "The Research in Disabilities Education program at National Science Foundation was pleased to sponsor this national event," said Dr. Linda Thurston, program director for Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) at NSF's Division of Human Resource Development.

"We are committed to examining issues related to post-secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics education of veterans with combat-related disabilities. This event, by bringing together stakeholders in STEM education for veterans, is expected to inform the national research agenda within the Foundation and to provide important input for those around the country that are committed to providing quality STEM undergraduate and graduate education for those who have served in this country's armed forces," said Thurston.

Transition STEM was an invitation-only event for leaders representing points of transition in veterans' lives:

  • Wounded Warriors and their transition experiences
  • STEM industry representatives who value veterans as employees
  • Higher education leaders who recruit and support Wounded Warriors in their STEM degrees
  • Researchers' insight into effective supports for Wounded Warriors
  • Policy leaders who determine transition protocol to higher education

Other UCEDDs in attendance included the Center on Disability Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (Pacific Alliance for Supporting Individuals with Disabilities in STEM Fields Partnership) and Nisonger Center from The Ohio State University (Ohio's STEM Ability Alliance).

"Veterans with service-connected disabilities often have field-based accomplishments that should provide a smooth transition into science, technology, engineering, and math-based fields (STEM) and post-military employment," said Dr. Ronda Jenson, co-Principal Investigator of the NSF-funded parent project, KC-BANCS (Kansas City Building An Alliance for New Careers in STEM).  "However, Wounded Warriors and post-secondary education do not uniformly understand how and when to connect the STEM experiences of military experience with a future career. NSF recognized this disconnect and provided funding for 'Transition STEM: A Wounded Warriors Think Tank' to identify solutions," said Jenson.

"Transition STEM provided an opportunity to bring together national leaders to discuss supporting student-veterans with disabilities in STEM post-secondary education, and to problem-solve and plan for improving this transition," said Alexis Petri, KC-BANCS Project Director. "It capitalized on the strengths of a cross-section of knowledgeable professionals and students to develop specific recommendations to help the STEM fields better support Wounded Warriors in their transition to STEM careers".

Next steps include developing a comprehensive report for the National Science Foundation outlining specific steps institutions of higher education can take to support Wounded Warriors as they earn degrees in the STEM fields and embark on careers in STEM. Audience-specific materials to promote recognition of the issues/challenges and inspire direct action will also be created and offered to other institutions and the public at large.   Media and materials from the event will be available at

KC-BANCS is one of over 50 projects of the UMKC Institute for Human Development, an applied research and interdisciplinary training center. For over 33 years, IHD has exemplified UMKC's mission by demonstrating research to practice through community partnerships for effective social change. For more information, please call 816.235.5359 or visit