Special: StudentVeterans Come Marching Home

Since 11 September 2001, Americans in uniform have been engaged in two wars–in Iraq and Afghanistan–both of which are likely to continue for at least several more years. Veterans of these conflicts have been coming back to American universities in substantial numbers, many as students in science and engineering departments.

Since 9/11, some 1.65 million members of the armed forces have returned to civilian life. According to a Department of Veterans Affairs report, as of February 2007, about 275,000 of these veterans have used GI education benefits in degree programs, including 13,000 in graduate school. If the new GI Bill, with its more generous benefits, becomes law, these numbers are likely to increase.

Although there are no definite numbers yet, the National Science Foundation reports that in 2004, about one-third (32%) of American bachelor’s degrees awarded were in science or engineering programs. Given that the armed services put a high value on technical skills in recruiting and training, the proportion of science and engineering student-veterans is likely to be even higher. So at least 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are probably already studying–or have studied–science and other technical fields, several thousand at the graduate level. Interviews with administrators confirm that veterans are an increasing presence in university science departments across America.

This week, Science Careers takes its first look at a sampling of this group of students. In Science Careers talks to eight science and engineering students to learn how their transitions to civilian and academic life are going. We learn that these student-veterans face some obstacles, but they also bring some qualities that are likely to benefit their science and engineering careers and future employers–and perhaps their campuses as well. Alets you hear about some of these veterans’ experiences in their own words.

describes a new bill, passed by both houses of Congress and awaiting the president’s signature, that promises to increase educational opportunities for returning veterans well beyond what their current benefits provide. Representative Harry Mitchell (D–AZ), the sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, and Ben Latigo, dean of the engineering school at the University of the District of Columbia, spoke to us about the bill and its implications for veterans and the country as a whole.

In Beryl Benderly describes the career and training landscape for returning veterans in science and technical fields. Some of the opportunities described do not require advanced degrees and in many cases take advantage of veterans’ military experience.

Because this is a new topic for Science Careers, we enlisted the help of several experts and organizations, each of which deserves recognition and our sincere thanks:

    StudentVeterans Come Marching Home: A New GI Bill for Scientists

    StudentVeterans Come Marching Home: Their Return to Studies