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SDSU Combats Veteran Unemployment

Patricia Reily and the College of Engineering take aim at veteran unemployment through engineering internships.
Service members marching on SDSU campus
Service members marching on SDSU campus

While unemployment among veterans nationwide is at an unprecedented high and rising, San Diego State University has achieved real results in countering the trend locally.

SDSU's College of Engineering launched Troops to Engineers and SERVICE, or Success in Engineering for Recent Veterans through Internship and Career Experience, in February 2011 and placed retired Naval officer Patricia Reily as its director.

Veterans are twice as likely to go into engineering careers than other disciplines, Reily said. She views her position as performing a valuable duty to assist veterans throughout their education and into their careers.

Duty to the veterans

It is a duty that Reily takes personally. As a veteran, she recognizes the value of the program as a “win-win-win” for the company, the veteran and the community.

“Industry wins by acquiring highly qualified candidates and the veteran wins because he or she has a job,” she said. “And the region and country win because it provides support for a young veteran who has honorably served their country at a time when joblessness among young veterans is at unprecedented high.”

One of the stated goals of Troops to Engineers SERVICE is to place every interested student-veteran into paid internships while at SDSU, with the goal of that internship then translating to a full-time job upon graduation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among Gulf War-era II veterans, or those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was at 13.1 percent in December 2011. Meanwhile, unemployment among non-veterans for the same period was at 9.4 percent.

It’s a lofty objective, but so far, Reily and the program are succeeding.

Industry wins by acquiring highly qualified candidates and the veteran wins because he or she has a job.

Successful start, bright future

“The first semester 29 student veterans came to me for career assistance,” she said.

“Of those 29, 15 had other obligations and couldn’t commit to an internship, but all 14 who were placed in summer internships, 100 percent were asked to stay on by their employers at the end of the summer either part-time or full-time.”

That success has not been quiet as the number seeking career assistance with Reily and the program grew to 68 this semester. Additionally, if a student is unavailable for a particular internship, she still maintains a record of all the students who come to her for help.

“There are more than 1,000 student veterans on campus,” Reily said, “and each one who comes to me for help, I keep track of their efforts, as well as a resume on file in case someone calls looking for another talented, qualified student-veteran.”

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By providing scholarships to student-veterans, SDSU is creating opportunities and enabling dreams for the next generation of leaders and innovators, a key initiative of The Campaign for SDSU. Learn more about how you can help fuel students’ potential.

Transitioning into an engineering career  

Amidst the negative stories of veterans leaving service only to face extended periods of unemployment, there are those that give hope that the tide is turning.

One of those success stories is Michael Chen, a Chinese-born U.S. sailor whose family dreamed of a better life and immigrated to Tijuana, Mexico, when he was 6 years old. He joined the U.S. Navy after high school to hasten the process of becoming an American citizen. After his enlistment was complete, he left military service and began taking classes at SDSU.

As an electrical engineering student, he earned a 3.46 grade point average, while juggling volunteer efforts at the Veteran’s Home in Chula Vista, Calif., as well as taking care of his own family. He is also fluent in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese. When he completed his internship at Cubic, he earned rave reviews from his supervisors who strove to find him a full-time position.

“It truly is the definition of an American success story,” said Reily, pointing at her book of resumes. “And he’s not the only one. I have many here who came from tough backgrounds, served their country and are now hopefully exactly what a company is looking for.”


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