Discovery Files

Veterans helping veterans through research

Research Experiences for Undergraduates program addresses challenge of veterans enrolling in college

Honoring veterans' military service and attending to their re-entry into civilian life are important parts of how our nation celebrates veterans this month. For some veterans, re-entry may involve enrolling in college. Moving from life in the military to life on a college campus, however, can be challenging.

A program at Syracuse University's Falk College, partially supported by the University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families, addresses this challenge by training undergraduate students, including veterans, to conduct research on the effects of trauma in veteran populations. Part of a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Training Diverse Undergraduate Teams of Veterans and Non-Veterans to Conduct Trauma Research with Veterans program helps students look at the chemical, clinical, cognitive and family factors associated with the various outcomes of trauma.

Now in its 7th year, the Syracuse program begins with a four-week summer workshop that includes interdisciplinary coursework, faculty mentorship and the development of research projects. During the fall semester, students continue their research under the supervision of a faculty member from Syracuse University, State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego, and SUNY Upstate Medical Center.

The program's mix of veterans and non-veterans benefits both groups. Working closely with non-veterans can help veterans re-integrate into society. And it benefits the non-veteran undergraduates to work with researchers who are veterans.

"The non-veteran undergraduates gain a better understanding of the veteran population and the context for trauma research," said Brooks Gump, Falk Family Endowed Professor of Public Health and co-director of the program.

One topic that researchers have explored in this program is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects millions of Americans and is particularly prevalent among veterans. Students partner with leading researchers who study the identification and development of PTSD. The ability to better predict the development of PTSD could improve efforts to identify and treat the disorder. The students also studied treatment outcomes and social relationships in individuals with PTSD.

In addition to conducting research, REU Site students and their mentors are encouraged to present their research findings at a national or international conference. The hands-on research and presentation experience helps prepare the students for graduate degrees in research fields.

Ivan Castro, currently a project manager with Syracuse University's REU site, is himself a veteran of the Navy and of the program. He credits his time in the program with opening his eyes.

"The experience really opened a window into what research actually entails and allowed me to consider graduate school, something I had not given a thought to before that," Castro said. "While working on my degree, I was also working full-time, and I couldn't afford to volunteer in a lab. This REU gave me invaluable experience and insight and financial support during the summer. The program really pushed me towards pursuing a research profession."