The University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering is establishing a program that helps address the unique higher education needs of veterans and active military.
The Camo to Classroom to Career Program is designed not only to guide them through college life, but also support them in finding a job upon completion of their engineering degree. The program will launch this fall in partnership with the university’s Veterans’ Services Office.
“Whether they’ve just returned from combat or are adjusting to civilian life, veterans of the armed forces often face a host of challenges,” said Lawrence Schulze, the program’s director and an associate professor of industrial engineering at the Cullen College. “These students are often much older with more life experience and usually have difficulty relating to the other students who are coming straight out of high school. We owe it to this country to see that they have all the opportunities for success, so we designed a program that creates a sense of community for them while helping them to learn about veteran-specific topics.”
It’s a concept that is appealing to Eduardo Valdez. A native of Houston, Valdez served six years in the Marines before coming to UH to pursue his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.
“Transitioning from the military mindset can be tough,” said Valdez, who plans to enroll in the program. “A program like this is exciting because it can help with that transition and educate us on how to get things done.”
The program is on tap to provide students from all five branches of the military not only assistance in understanding the new Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, but also career guidance. This includes mock interviews, resume development and assistance in gaining internships. With 12 of the top 50 veteran-friendly companies located in the Houston metropolitan area, Schulze said, administrators will work to seek out company sponsorships that place students with these organizations after graduation.
By partnering with the Veterans’ Services Office on campus, the program will be able to pair newcomers with graduate-level mentors of a similar background. The idea, said Allen Grundy, director of the Veterans’ Services Office, is that the mentors will help answer questions and keep these students on course.
“Americans are very proud of the veterans who have served our country, but most do not realize the immense challenges faced by former soldiers,” said Grundy, noting some are disabled and others suffer from things such as post-traumatic stress disorder. “Having someone guide them who has been through some of the same things can be a powerful. It can really help them open up and be successful in their pursuit of an education.”
Schulze started the program with associate professor of industrial engineering, Christopher Chung, who, for a longtime, saw a need for a program geared toward this unique student group.
“The university has a long history of educating active military and veterans, especially those veterans returning from foreign wars,” Schulze said. “In the first years of UH, over 35,000 veterans received advanced educational training at UH under the original GI Bill, with many being housed on campus. This program is helping continue that tradition.”