On Friday, March 23, 2012, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Think took place at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The purpose of the event was to identify obstacles, support, and possibilities for Wounded Warriors transitioning into post-secondary education. The event opened with a veterans’ panel/talk story session during which time the audience had the opportunity to hear veteran perspectives and ask questions.

Urban Miyares, President, Disabled Businesspersons Association, shared his insights on successfully overcoming combat-related disability. John Schupp, Executive Director of The Next Great Generation (NGG), who has worked with over 300 campuses nationwide creating supportive educational programs for student veterans, shared his experience from an academic point of view about what works to ensure high graduation rates. Jimmy Enocencio, Pointman from Kalalau Ranch and Victory Gardens, shared his own powerful story and advocated for having veterans work on the land for the dual purpose of healing and learning STEM skills.

Discussions with service providers in the afternoon highlighted what is being done to support our troops as well as ideas about what can still be done. The participants, who came from diverse parts of the community, included service members, veterans, family members, service providers, businesspeople and academics, all contributed to the creation of a multi-stakeholder action plan for the future.

An unexpected benefit of the event was the powerful effect of story sharing. Some people felt it was the first time that they had felt compelled to share themselves openly. In fact, Uncle Joe came up to me — with tears in his eyes — and thanked me for setting something he’d been holding inside for over 30 years free.

To witness that kind of transformation was success enough for me. Providing safe spaces, in which people can process their experiences, is one of biggest takeaways of the Think Tank.

(Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Pacific Alliance of the Center on Disabilities hosted the event.)

About the author: Katherine Li, PhD, just graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. For her doctoral research she carried out a multi-case study to assess the preparedness of the campus to support combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soon after graduation she was asked by the Center on Disability Studies to coordinate the Wounded Warriors STEM Think Tank. Dr. Li has a BA in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi and an MA in International and Comparative Education from Columbia University. She speaks several languages and has traveled widely. Her particular interests include trauma, resilience, and conflict transformation.