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As a child, Ryan Wilson didn’t just play with toys. He disassembled them piece by piece to figure out what made them run. A train engine. Computers. Remote control planes. Even a VCR.

“I always liked taking toys apart,” said Wilson. “I just loved seeing how things worked.”

Wilson, now 28, continues to follow his passion for how things work. After six years in the U.S. Navy, the Costa Mesa, Calif. native is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Irvine.

Raytheon is proud to have recently awarded Wilson a $10,000 scholarship toward his studies, one of three to military veterans pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). The scholarships are part of Raytheon’s support of Student Veterans of America, which provides veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and the workforce.

A love of ‘hands-on’ work pays dividends

The 1968 Mustang was so beat up it barely ran. Wilson’s father bought it for Ryan when he was 15. Whenever he had a spare moment, Ryan worked on the car. He rebuilt the engine and transmission. Reworked the front end suspension. Repaired the car’s body.

That love of hands-on mechanical work paid dividends after high school during Wilson’s six years of active duty in the U.S. Navy, where he worked as a heavy equipment mechanic repairing mechanical and electrical systems for bulldozers, flatbed trucks, fork lifts and generators.

After his Navy service, Wilson enrolled at a community college and started working toward a degree in mathematics – a strange choice of major for a guy who remembered hating math in high school. But in his college trigonometry and algebra courses, Wilson realized he hadn’t hated math at all. He just hadn’t been motivated to study because he didn’t see the connection of math and science to the things he loved to do, like building things and taking them apart.

Now that’s all changed. After earning his Associate’s degree in math last year, Wilson expects to receive his Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Irvine in June 2015.

Wilson says he loves how the lessons of math and science apply to real life. Recently at his internship for a medical device company, Wilson was testing the pressure capabilities of medical cylinders that would hold oxygen for patients. Wilson said he was able to explain the testing process to his colleagues – including his boss – because he had learned about the stretching properties of metals in class.

“Science and math are important because that’s where a lot of innovation starts,” Wilson said. “When you hear about people inventing things or curing diseases, the science and math is where it all started.”

  • Age: 28
  • From: Costa Mesa, Calif.
  • Active duty: U.S. Navy 2003-2009
  • Studying: mechanical engineering at the University of California, Irvine
  • Future plans: A “hands-on“ career in aerospace or medical devices