MIT hosts STEM boot camp for veteran students

MIT NEWS OFFICE, Jonathan Mingle Friday, August 11, 2017

Warrior-Scholar Project helps vets transition to college with intensive summer program.

“Force is a part of our everyday experience,” said Michael McDonald, assistant professor of physics in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “Gravity. Friction. What are some other forces?”

The students in his Tuesday morning lecture on Newtonian mechanics were quick with suggestions: “Tension.” “Pressure.” “Torsion.”

While the class was focused on the fundamentals of projectile motion and classical physics, the participants could claim more than the average student’s level of experience with pressure and tension. All 15 eager note-takers were veterans of the United States military, on day three of a weeklong “boot camp” on STEM subjects hosted by MIT last week.

The 15 vets were participants in the Warrior-Scholar Project, a nonprofit that organizes one- and two-week-long intensive programs to help members of the military transition from active duty to academia. After a week studying humanities at Harvard University, the students spent July 30 to Aug. 5 immersed in all things STEM at MIT. With daily lectures on physics, independent research projects, afternoon tours of labs on campus, nightly reading, and problem sets due each morning, their days were packed from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.

“It’s a lot of information, and I’m trying to sponge it up as best I can,” Kyle Skattum, a former Marine Corps infantryman, told MIT News. “It’s been really awesome. Being engulfed into the culture on a college campus has been huge. But it’s almost a semester’s worth of material compressed into a week. The ‘boot camp’ comparison works.”

Since 2012, the WSP has run these intensive courses, which are free of charge, on 15 different university campuses, but this year’s session was the first at MIT. The students stayed on MIT’s campus for both weeks. Each day of the STEM week included a visit to a different MIT lab focused on topics such as gravitational waves, medical imaging, astronomy, and engineering systems for the soldier of the future. After exploring force, mass, and acceleration in McDonald’s Tuesday lecture, the vets took a tour of the laboratory of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, a collaboration among MIT, the Army, and industry groups, to research and develop novel systems to protect soldiers in the field.

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Image caption:
From left: Nelson Olivier, veteran, former MIT postdoc, and student in the MIT Sloan School of Management’s executive MBA program; Sidney T. Ellington, executive director of the Warrior Scholar Project; and Bill Kindred, veteran, EMBA student, and human resources manager at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

Image credit: Bryce Vickmark