Kevin Smith has seen the pressing need for engineering talent in his home state, and has been acutely aware that returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can use a helping hand to find a career path.

Kevin-SmithKevin Smith believes in win-win situations.

As a manager with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Smith has seen the pressing need for engineering talent in his home state, and has been acutely aware that returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can use a helping hand to find a career path.

In 2009, Smith started America’s Veterans to Tennessee Engineers, an innovative program that meets both goals.

“The GI Bill is great, but it doesn’t give vets everything they need to succeed, especially if they have families,” Smith said. “One guy I met was working three different part-time jobs to make ends meet and trying to go to school at the same time. He just couldn’t do it.”

America’s Veterans to Tennessee Engineers is designed to provide educational and employment opportunities to former members of the armed forces, including those with disabilities.

A former commander of the U.S. Air Force Stealth Fighter Group, Smith created a consortium of schools in Tennessee with engineering programs, local government agencies and 17 employers in the Tennessee Valley region.

The consortium helps qualified veterans apply to engineering programs, offers relocation support, arranges part-time work in engineering fields while they are in school and provides the students with mentors. Upon completing the college program, each participant is guaranteed a job as an engineer.

Just in the infant stages, the program currently has 20 veterans enrolled in Tennessee colleges. So far, one has graduated, but many more are on the way.

One of the earliest entrants to the program was John Brasher, a single father and veteran of the Army Third Infantry¿the first division to enter Iraq in 2003. With Smith’s help, Brasher is now studying civil engineering at the University of Tennessee and working part-time with a company involved in nuclear waste clean-up.

Brasher said he is grateful to Smith for creating a program that is providing him with an excellent educational opportunity, hands-on work experience and hope for the future.

“Kevin is a one-of-a-kind guy, above and beyond,” Brasher said. “He just hard-core cares about veterans.”

While the emphasis is on helping veterans, companies in the Tennessee Valley region benefit as well.

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Source: The Washington Post
Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration