UAH: Military women are untapped resource for STEM jobs

Updated: May. 20, 2019 at 6:37 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Tennessee Valley's need for experts in the fields of science and engineering is great, but the answer for tech companies is simple. Hire a veteran!

Reseachers at UAH and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln believe our nation’s heroes can help boost to the STEM workforce.

Military service is a path to a later career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, and especially for women, according to research done by Dr. Christina Steidl, associate professor of sociology at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and Dr. Regina Werum, professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and working collaboratively, the researchers found that veterans have higher rates of STEM degree earning and STEM employment than civilians, and that the pattern is particularly strong for women.

In some cases, they find that female veterans are entering STEM fields at rates higher than males. However, the degree of disparity between the sexes in STEM employment can vary depending on which careers are included.

(Source: UAH & UNL)

Fueling STEM fields has been a national focus. How does the U.S. stay ahead of other countries when it comes to Science Technology, Engineering and Math? Dr. Steidl says the study that grew out of interest in the STEM pipeline and the underrepresentation of women.

"We were interested in what drives women into STEM fields and then where do they leave STEM fields. Our research shows that women and men go into STEM at different times following different paths," Dr. Steidl explained.

One of the ways women find STEM is through the military.

"What we found is that in fact, military veterans are much more likely to go on after their service and earn a STEM degree. They're much more likely to be employed in STEM fields. That's true whether or not they go on and earn a degree actually," Dr. Steidl stated.

Their biggest finding was that women who have served in the military are about 41% more likely to go on to earn a STEM degree than their female civilian counterparts who have never served in the military.

The team on the project uncovered the pattern, but more research is needed to learn more about what's driving it.

"We think it's some kind of exposure to opportunities, experience, mentorship that they gain through their military service," Dr. Steidl said.

Further analyses are underway and the research could have implications for higher educational institutions, for STEM employers and for the military. A video about the project is part of a STEM online video showcase hosted by the NSF.

Previous research has shown that military service has a positive effect on the career trajectories of veterans, and especially black and Latino veterans, according to Dr. Steidl. Steidl and Werum wondered if military service provided benefits to women's career trajectories, as well.

That was part of the motivation for the new research, along with the observation that military training and recruitment prominently feature STEM skills, which may encourage pursuit of STEM careers, and the G.I. Bill provides benefits to veterans returning to school, enabling them to pursue time-intensive degrees like STEM.

The research began in 2016 and was funded by NSF in 2017. The project employs secondary data from the American Community Survey, collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The sample includes a nationally representative group of roughly 5.3 million Americans, across all walks of life. The project is ongoing through summer 2020.

“We see a 41% increase among military women as compared to civilian women. That’s a huge amount We’re really talking about the ability to pull talented individuals who are likely to be successful into a field and get them into that field. And then what can we do with that as a country, how does that contribute to our science and technology endeavors,” Dr. Steidl added.

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