Funded by the Office of Naval Research in 2015, the Problem-based Initiatives for Powerful Engagement and Learning In Naval Engineering and Sciences (PIPELINES) is a collaborative project between the University of California Santa Barbara and the Naval Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center at Port Hueneme, California. PIPELINES is a summer workforce learning experience that supports students’ development of career-relevant skills while supporting students’ abilities to (a) critically reflect on and apply their STEM knowledge, (b) identify resources needed for advancement in such abilities, and (c) develop strategies to support their academic achievement towards advanced STEM studies and careers. The program involves an ethnographic methodology to make visible students’ perspectives in engineering thinking, in order to develop effective strategies for STEM outreach and recruitment of underrepresented populations, including minorities and veterans.
PIPELINES is an example of how practitioners and researchers in engineering and education can work together towards achieving their respective goals, all of which are focused on increasing a currently dwindling engineering workforce in the U.S. In this effort, PIPELINES has focused on attracting military veteran students, seen as an untapped pool of talent with a transformative potential on the future U.S. economy. A number of studies have shown that, during their years in service, veterans often gain advanced technical skills in addition to strong leadership and time management skills: all qualities that make them excellent candidates as future scientists or engineers.
The challenge in attracting and recruiting veterans to engineering was documented by a recent NSF-funded study that reported many veterans opt for traditional job sectors, such as security or law enforcement, out of concerns about time to degree completion. This finding is corroborated by our conversations with veteran coordinators at community colleges (CCs) and veteran advocates in our area, who confirmed that most veteran students opt for non-STEM degrees. The reasons behind this choice are multiple, and include a surprising lack of awareness by veterans about how their training and technical capacity might translate into STEM career opportunities, rusty mathematics skills, and family commitments. Furthermore, although CCs have increased efforts to provide support services to veteran students (e.g., Veteran Resource Centers and Counselors), based on our observations, veteran students tend to shy away from organized groups or activities, making outreach and recruitment efforts particularly challenging.
In this work, we discuss findings from our first iteration of the PIPELINES program and highlight strategies we have found effective in developing and implementing such a multi-tiered, interdisciplinary effort, in which each actor (educators, researchers, and Navy scientists and engineers) brings complementary knowledge and skills that are key to PIPELINES programmatic and recruitment success.
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