News: SPAWAR and SDSU partner to mentor veterans and wounded warriors in STEM careers
Story by Tina Stillions
SAN DIEGO -- Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and San Diego State University hosted a panel discussion and networking forum for veteran and wounded warrior students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers Dec. 8.
Held on the SDSU campus, the event was developed to give veteran-owned small businesses an opportunity to mentor and network with students, while at the same time providing information and guidance on doing business with SPAWAR.
Rear Adm. Patrick Brady, commander for SPAWAR, provided opening remarks at the event and discussed the importance of networking and helping the veteran and wounded warrior community. He said there is some benefit to networking for everyone at the event.
“Networking is the theme today; take advantage of the opportunity,” said Brady. “None of us succeed alone; we all rely on and perform as mentors throughout our careers.”
Brady discussed the importance of sustaining contacts and following up with people. He said that networking is a two-way street. Students learn what companies need from their new technical hires and can align their education and military experience for success. Small businesses can interface with the future workforce and the educational institutions that are preparing them.
“Networking is like ballroom dancing,” said Brady. “You can’t do it alone and you may not be very good in the beginning, but with practice it gets easier and you get better at it.”
A panel discussion followed Brady’s opening remarks, with participation from SPAWAR senior leadership and private industry. Participants included Tim Dowd, contracts director SPAWAR; John Metzger, acquisition manager Program Executive Officer, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (PEO C4I); Will Nevilles, senior vice president INDUS Technologies; Benito Hobson, director business development Integrits Corporation; and Joe Bulger, senior business development manager SPAWAR programs Lockheed Martin.
Each panel member shared his perspective on success strategies and skills necessary in today’s economic climate, including networking, thinking competitively, working in a team environment and understanding the cost of doing business.
“As you go through your studies and careers, you have to think competitively and you have to think about what other gifts you can bring to the workforce,” said Metzger. “You will need that business edge to be successful.”
Metzger went on to say that his organization’s success moving C4I equipment to the fleet is the result of three priorities: controlling contracting costs; contracting what technology can deliver today; and funding stability. He told the audience in their good work as STEM professionals they will have to be able to understand and think about costs and make sound business decisions.
The speed networking portion of event that followed the panel discussion was intended to encourage students and company representatives from the veteran-owned small businesses present to network, interact and learn more about each other.
"This forum was developed to provide an opportunity to mentor our veterans and wounded warriors studying STEM careers at SDSU,” said Mark McLain, Small Business Programs for SPAWAR. “It’s a chance for students to network with some of the service disabled and veteran owned small businesses in the community so that they can find out what skills employers are looking for in their potential employees.”
The Navy is competing for technical talent. Only six percent of high school seniors will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in a STEM field. The United States is ranked 27 out of 30 for STEM degrees issued in developed countries. That shortage is expected to increase because of the aging DOD workforce, with 30 percent of science and technology professionals expected to retire by 2020.
SDSU has approximately 1,100 veterans currently enrolled on campus. According to David Hayhurst, dean for the College of Engineering at SDSU, the school has the most veterans of any college campus, “probably in the nation.” The academic institution has a veterans center and ranks 30th among 100 universities nationwide for military veterans. With the unemployment rate for young veterans age 18-24 hovering around 30 percent, it is anticipated that college attendance will go up as many leave the service and have difficulty finding work.
“I spent time in Guam and when I returned to California, it was hard to find a job,” said James Sparks, a veteran and SDSU engineering student. “I thought there would be more job security in an engineering field, so I decided to go back to school and enrolled here at State.”
Service disabled and veteran owned small businesses participated in the inaugural networking event held in the career center at SDSU. The goal of SPAWAR leadership is to continue to provide similar forums and mentoring opportunities for veterans and wounded warriors in the future.
SPAWAR relies on small business. In fiscal year 2010, the organization obligated approximately $1.2 billion or roughly 20 percent of the command's total obligation authority to small businesses. It depends on the interoperability and non-proprietary solutions provided by small business to ensure that cutting-edge technology is available for the Navy. The small business program at SPAWAR provides training, advice, guidance and innovative strategies to ensure those quality solutions are available, while at the same time maximizing opportunities for small businesses, as required by the Small Business Act and Federal Acquisition Regulation.
The Navy's Information Dominance Systems Command, SPAWAR participates regularly in events and programs for students with a goal of inspiring and preparing young men and women for STEM careers with the federal government.