Description: The goal of this research study is to “investigate the critical factors that impact learning, participation, persistence, and graduation for veterans with vets in stemdisabilities pursuing undergraduate STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and careers.” This research project aims to answer the following questions:  What are the critical factors reported by veterans with invisible disabilities influencing their decisions to enroll and persist in STEM post-secondary undergraduate programs? Using fuzzy cognitive mapping (FCM), an innovative methodology that applies fuzzy set theory making causal cognitive maps computable, the data from key informants will provide a clear image of multiple dimensions (e.g. characteristics, timing, and intensity) influencing veterans with disabilities succeeding in STEM. 

Project Contacts:             Ronda Jenson, 816.235.6335, and Alexis Petri, 816.235.5872,

Project Period:                 2013-2015

Project Funding:              $691,423 over three years

Funding Source:               National Science Foundation (NSF)

Core Functions

Applied Research: Research questions for this study focus specifically on veterans with disabilities and their experiences and address the social ecological layers influence and strategies intended to increase recruitment, engagement, graduation and career entry for careers in STEM.  Results will be translated for multiple audiences of stakeholders and set the stage for intervention-specific studies, improved data systems, and evidence of necessary systems change.

Community Services and Supports: The issues and challenges faced by veterans returning from military life, seeking a college degree, and finding a career are not universally recognized and addressed. These challenges have implications for (a) the system of supports including disability services and student counseling designed to accommodate and support; (b) STEM education including course design, assessment, participation, and faculty-student interaction; and (c) getting into STEM careers. The results of this study will be translated for multiple audiences of stakeholders and set the stage for intervention-specific studies, improved data systems, and evidence of necessary systems change.

Information Dissemination: Veterans in STEM will strive to disseminate results of this study that inform participating institutions, pose recommendations for similar institutions, and provide a framework for further research.  The dissemination objective includes quarterly update emails to SRT on the progress of the study, presentation of results at state, local, and national meetings of stakeholder groups, publication of results in stakeholder and peer reviewed journals, and web features on related sites and
Program Need and Historical Context: Transition STEM:  A Wounded Warrior Think Tank ( provided an opportunity for individuals across the country with expertise in working with student veterans and STEM fields to engage in focused conversations. Participants described a range of services and resources needed by veterans with invisible disabilities to support them in their STEM education and connect them to STEM careers.  The intended outcome was to identify programmatic and policy recommendations for higher education, policy leaders, veterans’ services, business/industry, and the NSF.

Veterans in STEM will advance the knowledge base developed by Transition STEM Think Tank by maintaining focus on the underlying issues experienced by veterans with disabilities, grounding the issues in a framework giving logic to the conduct of the study and the interpretation of the data, and employing a community-based participatory action research approach that anchors the research in the contexts of existing system. Building on the ecological model of human development (Brofennbrenner, 1994; Sontag, 1996), the social ecological perspective is an approach to conceptualizing the influences affecting the lives of and outcomes for people with disabilities (Walker et al, 2011).
Consumer and Community Involvement: IHD will develop an alliance partnership model incorporating STEM educators in Missouri, California, Hawaii, and Maryland to recruit and interview student veterans and to develop the causal cognitive maps addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities desiring to enter STEM fields.  This study will include community resource and service leaders (e.g. Veterans Administration, military base outsourcing professionals, and Veterans Upward Bound) as key informants for comparing the intentions of these resources and supports with the experienced outcomes.


Significant Project Activities and Projected Outcomes: The Veterans in STEM research study will contribute to the understanding and discovery of the critical factors affecting the participation of veterans with disabilities in STEM education and careers. The broader impact will be realized in the following ways:

  • Broaden participation of underrepresented groups by focusing on veterans with service-connected disabilities.
  • Advance discovery and understanding by including key stakeholders in the interpretation of research findings and implementing an innovative methodology for sense-making and decision-making.
  • Promote improved teaching/learning through a reflective process comparing strategies with outcomes.
  • Broaden dissemination by posing problem-solving scenarios and action-reaction results, sharing results with community partners, and involving community partners in decision-making.
  • Benefit society by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing research results in formats understandable and useful for community partners.


Institute’s Role

  • Grant proposal development
  • Principal Investigator and program manager
  • Protocol development for the fuzzy cognitive mapping process and presence during interviews with key informants
  • Causal cognitive maps developed during interviews with key informants and input of maps into cognitive mapping software
  • Development of subcontracts for assistance with fuzzy cognitive mapping methodology and data analysis



  • Annual reports
  • Peer reviewed publications
  • Professional presentations