COMPASS exists to tightly integrate research, education, and knowledge transfer. An important component of that work is the Veterans Innovation Fellowship (VetIF) program. VetIF is a first-of-its-kind program centered around providing total support and training to undergraduate veteran students in STEM disciplines within the center. The program was founded to bridge the most critical gaps which exist for former enlisted veterans in academic and research environments. We seek to ensure that our fellows will be positioned as next generation innovators that are well equipped for both basic and industrial research.

US veterans in the student population represent a locus of intersectionality in terms of barriers to academic achievement (ex. virtually all are non-traditional and first-generation students). The motivation for this program includes a desire to support prior enlisted US veteran students with 360°-mentorship, research experience (basic and applied), considerable financial support, expert training, and incorporation into superior professional networks.

The second motivation is one related to ensuring the experiential diversity that science and engineering research teams will need to solve problems of scarcity and over-usage. This can be summarized as “a need to do more with less” and is foundational to many emerging and existential problems that will need to be faced in the near future.

With the thought of experiential diversity in mind, it should be noted that the majority of our intellectual capital in the US is tied up in resource scarce communities. Individuals in these communities routinely do not have access to the educational and support resources needed to be successful in high tech fields. If we are to address the multiple emerging existential threats to our nation, it will be important that we capture as much of this untapped potential as possible to bolster the ranks of our scientists, engineers, manufacturers, and innovators. Prior-enlisted veterans provide a unique cross-section of this population, having already taken steps to develop themselves into the type of individuals capable of supporting large, important projects using specialized skills. They have also already proven their ability to integrate into teams of various sizes with various missions. Therefore, one of the fastest paths to bolstering our innovator ranks is to establish a clear, well-supported path to a STEM career for our nation’s student veterans. 

The Program: Our program offers up to 3 years of support with a generous stipend and a health insurance allowance. Research is performed on campus with a COMPASS faculty member advisor during the year and an external (i.e., industry) partner or program during the summer. Fellowship recipients receive a multi-tiered array of professional and technical mentors to include bi-weekly 1-1 coaching, a day-to-day research mentor, monthly 1-1 PI coaching, and an applied research mentor. Recipients are also exposed to an extraordinary network of world-class researchers, manufacturers, and R&D centers in order to best position them to bring the skills they master in the program to the real world as innovators and leaders. 

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Jeff Raymond, PhD

VetIF Program Manager, NSF COMPASS, University of Michigan

Jeff is a former enlisted Army infantry soldier and accomplished materials scientist, physical chemist, and nanoengineer. He has served as an executive in the laboratory testing and contract research industry and has built more than a dozen laboratories, centers, and university cores during his career. His consulting company provides services to analytical testing laboratories and he is a certified professional coach.

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Jebril Thaxton, VetIF 2024 Cadre 

Electrical Engineering, University of Michigan

Jebril’s time in service (Navy) was spent as a Nuclear Plant Electrician maintaining the ships electrical distribution system onboard The USS Roosevelt Aircraft Carrier.  He plans to obtain a PhD after completing his undergraduate program and hopes to find a solution to creating transistors smaller than current limits in order to help extend Moore’s Law. He has an active interest in biomaterials and nanomedicine research.

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Steven Crechiolo, VetIF 2024 Cadre

Physics, University of Michigan

Steven served as infantryman in the US Marine Corps reserves before attending school. He looks forward to collaborating with many of the talented professionals that work at COMPASS. He is particularly interested in helping to optimize propulsion systems for spacecraft and the topological mechanics involved in aperiodic systems. After graduating, hopes hope to help push the frontiers of physics through translation to an aerospace related discipline using the skills and connections obtained through the VetIF program.

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Olubukola Akinbami, VetIF 2024 Cadre

Cognitive Science, University of Michigan

Olubukola served as a Geospatial Analyst and Personnel Security Manager in US Army, and currently serves as a Behavioral Health Specialist in the Army National Guard (Ypsilanti, MI). She currently serves as a Veteran Student Mentor at UM and has a strong interest in researching complex systems as they relate to tissue engineering and neural networks. She intends to use her time in the VetIF program to develop concrete quantitative skills for translation to complex human decision applications.

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Brandon Olson, VetIF 2024 Cadre

Cognitive Science (Pre-Med Track)

Brandon served for nearly 10 years as an Air Traffic Control Specialist in US Marine Corps performing more than a dozen mission critical roles to include Radar Watch Supervisor, Tower Ground Control Supervisor, and Company Training Chief. He hopes to use the opportunities provided by the VetIF program to pursue his MD with a focus on neuroscience, translating research and innovation skills on complex systems into clinical outcomes.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 2243104.

Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.