Helping veterans hit the books
Scholarship supports veterans studying space, satellites, cybersecurity
For the first time in his adult life, Damien Calderon was not a soldier. Five years in the Army had taken him through Ranger training, four deployments to Afghanistan and another to Iraq. He was 24 and wondering what came next.
He had always dreamed of working in the space program but wondered whether he could hack it. His girlfriend – now his wife – set him straight.
“She just asked me flat out, ‘What do you want to do? What are you excited about?’” Calderon, now 26, said. “I said how I wanted to do mechanical or aerospace engineering, and she said, ‘I think you should do it. What’s the worst that can happen?’”
Here's what happened: He started studying mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, then landed an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now Calderon is among three veterans chosen to receive a $10,000 2014 Raytheon/Student Veterans of America scholarship.
The other scholarship recipients are:
• Megan Freeman, 29, a Navy veteran studying computer science at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas
• Edward Thiemann, 34, an Air Force veteran pursuing a Ph.D in electrical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.
This is the second year the organizations awarded the scholarship, part of a broader effort to help veterans succeed in civilian life through higher education. That initiative grew this year with a new Raytheon Patriot Scholarship, which also will provide $10,000 each to two Army veterans pursuing degrees at four-year colleges or universities.
Freeman, a translator and language analyst during her eight years in the Navy, said she’s focusing now on cybersecurity and electronic warfare.
“I would love to program weapons defense systems,” she said. “It seems like it’s something our country needs, and I want to do something fulfilling with my life.”
Thiemann served four and a half years in the Air Force and has since developed a system that uses data analytics to prevent full-blown wildfires. The program pinpoints lightning strikes and tracks fire conditions, then combines that data and warns property owners when it is likely a fire has started near their homes.
He is now studying the effects of solar flares on the Earth’s upper atmosphere, all in the hope of detecting coronal mass ejections – huge bursts of energy from the sun that can disrupt energy and communications systems.
“If you know it’s coming, you turn off the power grid and you’re safe. It’s easy to avoid the damage if you take the right precautions,” he said. “We really have the solution at our fingertips to solve it.”