Arizona Team Training Students for Careers as Military Scientists, Engineers

TUCSON, Ariz. — As powerful geographic information systems and technologies are revolutionizing planning and operations in the military, the University of Arizona has launched a project to encourage ROTC students and student veterans to pursue careers as scientists and engineers with the U.S. Navy.

Led by the College of Education’s Sara Chavarria, the principal investigator, an interdisciplinary team has launched “NAVy Intelligence through Geospatial Applications and TEchnology,” or NAVIGATE. The three-year project has received more than $748,000 in funding from the Office of Naval Research.

The immersive science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) training program will provide students with specialized training in geospatial technology while helping them to prepare for STEM careers with the Navy, other military branches or careers in law enforcement.

“Geospatial technology is becoming the common operating platform for what happens on the land and in the air,” said Karen Siderelis, co-principal investigator on the grant and a research scientist for the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Generally, geospatial thinking refers to the process of applying scientific and technological methods to chart and map reading, investigating spatial relationships and both identifying and interpreting spatial patterns. Such skills are important for the use of GIS, remote sensing and global positioning systems.

“Geospatial tools are necessary for any work that requires people to understand patterns, or to see big-picture-level issues, whether that be for a community or region or at the global level,” said Chavarria, the assistant dean of research development and outreach for the College of Education, where she is also assistant director of the STEM Learning Center.

Geared toward UA Naval ROTC and student veterans who are in their freshman and sophomore years, NAVIGATE includes field experiences through a highly participatory and practical two-sequence course.

“What makes this program so unique is that we are targeting freshmen and sophomores,” Chavarria said, noting that 20 students are expected in the first year. “This kind of immersive lab experience is generally not typical at this level.”

The first, a 7-week course, begins Oct. 13, and a second program session will be held in the spring. The team is also developing teaching and online mentoring guides to aid military science faculty, while also evaluating ways to sustain and expand the project elsewhere.

“As a veteran, I could have utilized this to help me on the battlefield,” said Craig Bal, a senior studying agricultural technology management, who is the NAVIGATE mentor coordinator.

Bal, who served in the U.S. Marines from 2006 to 2011 with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said such training would have been especially helpful during his time as a sergeant.

“It’s a real-world punch in the stomach for me,” Bal said, “and I am very much on board with this and how we can relay this in a way that it is applicable.”

To encourage practicality, students will learn about issues in the South China Sea region.

To encourage retention and engagement, students will participate in a number of immersive off-campus experiences and activities, including an outdoor activity planned for Nov. 5 in which they will utilize geospatial learning and techniques in a team-based and competition-style orienteering project.

Also, through a partnership with Raytheon Missile Systems, company employees will serve as professional liaisons and mentors to NAVIGATE students. And with the inclusion of peer-to-peer support provided by UA student veterans, the program offers academic, social and professional support, all of which are necessary to retain students in STEM.

Another important element of the program is direct training on ways to best address conflicts and personal concerns.

“Broadly, if we are not taking care of how we are handling our own daily lives, and if we are not taking care of each other, everything is affected – work, academics and family are affected,” said Cody Nicholls, the UA’s assistant dean of students for Military and Veteran Engagement.

“At the end of the day, it’s about that holistic piece, which comes back to the specifics of the STEM portion of the grant,” Nicholls said. “If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take this to the next step.”

Premium Employers