Empowering Veterans in Emerging Technology

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In a move to empower veterans and bridge critical gaps in emerging technology sectors, the Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies (ExLENT) program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently allocated significant funding to two pioneering university projects.

The University of Florida (UF) Pivots: VETS-HASTE (Veterans SkillBridge through Industry Based Hardware Security Training and Education), led by educational technology professor Wanli Xing, PhD, and computer engineering professor Sandip Ray, PhD, focuses on providing hardware security training specifically tailored for veterans. This initiative.— which received $1 million in NSF ExLENT funding — acknowledges the potential contributions of veterans to cybersecurity and aims to address the increasing demand for skilled professionals in this sector.

Similarly, Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) was awarded more than $875,000 in NSF funding for its Sensor Technology for Experiential Learning program, led by chemistry professor Rong Wang, PhD. The program is designed to prepare veterans and underrepresented groups for careers in sensor technology, aligning with national priorities in areas such as defense, health care, and environmental control.

“In coming back home to reconnect with civilian life, veterans actively look for re-skilling opportunities,” Wang says. “Our certificate program will offer the training which helps close the gap for a well-paid job.”

Both projects adhere to the ExLENT framework by combining experiential learning methodologies with industry partnerships. This approach aims to bridge the gap between academic training and the practical skills needed in the workforce. Through experiential learning, mentorship opportunities, and career exploration initiatives, these programs will equip veterans with the necessary skills and knowledge for successful transitions into civilian careers within emerging technology sectors.

The Pivots: VETS-HASTE project at UF recognizes veterans as a valuable talent pool and offers them targeted training and support to enter the cybersecurity domain. By leveraging veterans’ distinct experiences and skills, the program aims to contribute to workforce diversity and address critical skill shortages in the cybersecurity industry.

Illinois Tech’s Sensor Technology for Experiential Learning program focuses on preparing veterans and underrepresented groups for roles in sensor technology — a field with broad applications across a wide range of industries. The nine-credit certificate’s emphasis on hands-on training and industry collaboration underscores its commitment to providing participants with practical skills and industry-relevant experiences.

“Veterans are unique,” Wang says. “They are among the first to adopt new technologies as they have used some of the most sophisticated technologies in the world. However, military experience and training are frequently not the perfect match of skills needed to perform the jobs today.”

Overall, these initiatives exemplify ExLENT’s mission to promote diversity and inclusion in STEM fields while addressing pressing workforce needs in key technology sectors. In late 2023, the foundation approved nearly $19 million in ExLENT funding to 27 higher education institutions. By investing in programs that facilitate experiential learning and industry engagement, NSF aims to cultivate a skilled and diverse workforce capable of driving innovation and combating emerging challenges across the cybersecurity landscape.