Many veterans are leaving the service with experience and expertise in areas of technology, and more is being done to transition them to civilian careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). While being in military service is a category of context that is increasingly important to evaluators of STEM workforce development projects/programs, currently most institutions of higher education do not separate retention and completion rates for veterans.1
Evaluators need to be aware that veterans are coming out of a very structured hierarchal environment where working together is key to success and often to survival. Veterans tend to have a sense of identity that is different from non-veterans and they consider themselves part of a group. As one veteran explained, “The training that we received teaches us to be part of a team, not to be an individual. So anytime you do anything for yourself, it just feels awkward.”2 Veterans with disabilities may view their disabilities as a sign of weakness or even shame -- that they let down the group. They often do not want to be labeled as having a disability and would prefer to be called “wounded warriors”.
Evaluators who are working with recent veterans and do not have personal experience with the military may want to bring someone on to the evaluation team who has that knowledge. Evaluators need to be aware that while there are commonalities across different branches of military service, the language, the culture, and the symbols can be quite different for different services. They also need to be aware of their own positive or negative feelings about the wars that these veterans have fought and the ways, if any, the evaluator's own feelings might affect the data collection, analysis and interpretation. As is the case with evaluations in general, trust must be established between the evaluator and the participants. Experienced evaluators who have worked with wounded warriors suggest that the evaluator must become very visible to the group, explain why they are present, and be very clear about the role of the evaluation and of the evaluator. Using a veteran as a co-evaluator is also recommended.3
Veterans have all been in military service, but they are not a homogeneous group. As appropriate, analysis of evaluation data may need to include other types of demographic information such as race and ethnicity, sex, income and education level.
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For more about the role of context in evaluation, click here