Category Archives: Military spouse education

Why Military Spouses Should Consider a STEM Profession

STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics

I am a chemical engineer and my heart belongs to my husband, who is serving our country as an active duty Airman. Yes, I just included both of those huge, seemingly conflicting, pieces of my life in a single sentence; being a career-minded STEM professional and a military spouse, simultaneously, is possible and can be absolutely amazing and fulfilling!

What Makes STEM So Great?

If you are looking for a career with the perfect Trifecta—in demand, financially sound and portable—a STEM career may fit the bill!

Most people don’t go into STEM solely for the money. Although the money is far from shabby…

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May 2013 annual average wage for all the STEM occupations was $79,640, roughly 1.7 times the national annual average wage for all occupations ($46,440).

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The decision to go STEM usually starts when we act on that little fire inside: a burning desire to solve problems; a craving for knowledge; an interest in finding a better way; a yearning to make our world a better place. STEM is a calling. If you have even a little spark inside of you for STEM, I encourage you to consider the following:

Jobs are out there! According to 2014 reports from the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, STEM jobs accounted for 5-10% of all jobs across our nation. The top three states with the highest distribution of STEM jobs were Maryland 7.7%, Virginia 7.5%, Washington 7.4%.

There will be even more out there soon! STEM jobs are projected to grow by one million between 2012 and 2022. Baby boomers are retiring in droves and a talent gap is growing. Just in Washington state alone, 50,000 jobs will go unfilled by 2017 because there aren’t enough skilled workers.

The STEM field is growing! You can get started on your STEM education right now! Scholarships are available for military spouses. Overall, STEM occupations are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations yet, of the recent NMFA scholarship applicants, only 5.8% were seeking STEM degrees. Military spouses are missing out on these fulfilling and rewarding careers!

What About the Downsides?

Let’s be real—there are challenges and there are many opportunities to improve the career horizon for military spouses in STEM. Here are a couple to consider:

Portability is questionable. There are many opportunities where remote work arrangements are possible. I know a few spouses who successfully negotiated this arrangement with their employer upon a move. Not every employer is willing, and not every job is capable of being remote. If seeking new employment after a move, many STEM industries vary by region as well so the likelihood of finding a similar job in a new area is hit or miss. The sunny side of this is that big-name STEM employers are starting to recognize military spouses as a high-value talent pool and are starting to develop solutions to attract, retain, and support the development and transition of military spouses in STEM professions.

Education is challenging. If you are worried that the education piece may be too difficult or too demanding, a little bit of love and geeky excitement is enough to give you the endurance and the resiliency needed for the rigors of a STEM education.

Work of love. I must caution you though, STEM can be rather addicting. When you discover the awesomeness of it, you may feel the calling to apply your passion and skills to every opportunity and you may feel a strong sense of loss and frustration if you run into challenges pursuing your career goals.

A Special Consideration for Military Spouses

Upwards of 95% of military spouses are female, and females are significantly underrepresented in STEM. This is important because our world needs better diversity representation in STEM professions because diversity leads to diverse thinking which leads to innovation. Regardless of your gender, your experience as a military spouse, and the breadth of your professional experiences, is extremely valuable in STEM. Beyond technical skills, the top-rated skills are thinking and communication—we are talking about some of the super strengths of military spouses right there!

What’s Next?

You decide! This is your career. Do the pros outweigh the cons? If you decide a STEM career is right for you…

We invite you to join the Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS), where you will connect with an extremely passionate and supportive group of people determined to overcome the challenges of maintaining a career with the military lifestyle and to support fellow active and retired military spouses in STEM fields reach their full potential.

Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS) is a member-driven 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, visit www.smsstem.org

Are you a military spouse in the STEM field? What do you love about it?

Posted by Michelle Aikman, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient

Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum: A Diverse Meeting of the Minds

I had the privilege of attending the 2016 United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum a few weeks ago. I was in a room with 100 of the best and the brightest upcoming health professionals in the country. The whole forum buzzed with passion and innovative ideas. The multi-cultural event had attendees representing nine different non-profit or civic organizations focused on minority groups. Everyone in attendance was working or hoped to work in the healthcare field. The wide variety of backgrounds, cultural representation, and world experiences led to amazingly critical and thoughtful discussions. The whole experience was a truly collaborative meeting of the minds.

So, what was I doing there?

I am a white female and acknowledge the privilege that has inherently come with that. I consider myself middle-class from a middle-class background. However, this year the Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum included a new group of attendees: military spouses. In this capacity I am a minority, an anomaly even. Only a small group of Americans hold the distinct honor, and bare the hardships of being a military spouse.

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The National Military Family Association (NMFA) awarded me a scholarship to assist with the financial burden of continuing education and the clinical supervision required for my profession as a clinical social worker. It was because of NMFA’s support for military spouses that I had the pleasure of attending the United Health Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum.

Throughout the Forum there was a strong focus on professional networking, branding, and advocacy. We heard from experienced members of the healthcare industry, participated in interactive panel discussions with experts, and had the opportunity to converse with members of congress on Capitol Hill. The chance to ask Congressmen and Senators questions about healthcare policy, in an open environment, was an invaluable experience.

During every aspect of the Forum we were engaged in meaningful conversations about the future of our country’s health. The important issues that healthcare professionals face were entrenched in everything. From policy to ethics, to standards of care; we tried to consider the “big stuff.” Being surrounded by such a diverse and brilliant crowd was nothing short of inspirational.

I left this year’s Diverse Scholars Initiative Forum feeling like I had taken a deep breath of fresh air. It left me feeling like a change is not only possible, but necessary. I am more sure than ever that this generation’s critical minds are up for the challenge.

Posted by Katie J. Haynes, MSW, LCSWA, military spouse and NMFA Scholarship Recipient 

Passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill to a Military Spouse: Yes or No?

For me, making the decision to use my husband’s Post-9/11 GI Bill, rather than save it for our kids, or for my husband when he gets out of the military, was difficult. The decision wasn’t hard for my husband, though. He has told me time and again that he wants me to use it. But it’s been difficult for me.

I am not the one who raised her right hand, and swore an oath to our nation. I am not the one who works countless hours, and follows every order, even when that order means missing out on holidays and graduations and plans with the family. I am not the one who deployed, or is ready and waiting for the next time someone needs to put their life on the line for Uncle Sam.

Not me.

I’m just the spouse. I am his cheerleader. I am proud to support him and do what I need to do to keep our home happy and healthy so he can do his job. I am doing everything I can to pitch in for our family, and that includes working, and hustling, and yes, going back to college.

My degree program is expensive. Very expensive. And climbing a career ladder as a military spouse isn’t easy.

Sometimes I wonder if spending this benefit on me is a worthwhile investment. I am not sure we’ll be in this area long enough for me to finish this degree program, let alone use it to it’s fullest potential. I am not sure I am going to be able to reach MY fullest potential as long as my spouse is active duty.

I’ve been struggling with this icky, dirty, rotten feeling, and wondering if my family made the right decision to invest in me, and this degree, right now.

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I shared these concerns with a friend, and fellow military spouse, who reassured me that I am not alone. She reminded me that degrees do not have expiration dates; if now is the right time for me to be working towards a degree, then I should do it. Even if we have a PCS looming, or I am unsure of what the future holds. I can get that degree, and hang it on my wall, and stick it on my resume, and it will be there for me when I need it.

She reminded me that struggling with guilt is normal, especially for a woman who is also a mom, like me. We are used to giving our kids the last scoop of ice cream and putting our needs to the side to care for them. So using a benefit for myself that could be passed to them is tough for me.

But, I can still use my degree to help them. Getting this degree will raise my earning potential, and impact my family’s budget. By the time my kids are ready to go to college, I could be earning much more money, and have an easier time helping pay their tuition. Before they are ready to go to college, our family will have more money to invest in sports and activities and tutors, so my kids will be more competitive when it comes to earning a college scholarship.

I need to remember that my husband and I are a team. We are in this together, and he believes I am a worthwhile investment. I need to believe in myself, as well. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has the potential to make a real difference for my family NOW. He is a “lifer,” and won’t be out of the military for another 10-15 years (knock on wood). By then, he won’t need the benefit. But I need it now, and our family needs my employment income now.

Lastly, my friend reminded me that many military spouses are struggling with employment issues. Many have put themselves, their educations, and their careers on the back burner. They’ve given up…and I don’t blame them at all. It’s hard to be ready and willing to work, and have the education and experience you need, and STILL hit a brick wall. Getting this degree will help me become more employable. It will make me more competitive. I may still struggle to find a job, and military life may still present it’s own challenges, but it’s always better to make sure there are multiple doors (and windows!) open to me. This degree will unlock them all.

I have an opportunity that has been lovingly given to me by my husband. He earned the right to choose where that benefit was best spent. He has chosen to invest in my education, and our family’s future. The best thing I can do for all of us is to continue to work my tail off, keep my head up, and know I am doing my part to help my family in the long run.

Are you a military spouse using the Post-9/11 GI Bill? How did you decide it was right for your family?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

To Master’s Degrees and Beyond!

Each year our scholarship application opens to military spouses pursuing any level of education. Each year I am pleasantly surprised with the number of spouses seeking graduate level degrees. In 2016, out of our entire applicant pool 26% are pursuing Master’s degrees.

So should you consider a Master’s degree? Let’s ask the experts…in this case the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ (BLS) Career Outlook, “In 2013, the median annual wage for full-time workers ages 25 and over whose highest level of education was a master’s degree was $68,000, compared with $56,000 for those whose highest level was a bachelor’s degree—a $12,000 a year wage premium.” The BLS does note that some occupations and fields of study benefit from advanced degrees while others may not. Which ones benefit? BLS highlights: business, education, healthcare and social service and STEM.
  • In a Monthly Labor Review published in 2012, The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects that the total employment is expected to increase by 20.5 million jobs from 2010 to 2020, with 88 percent of detailed occupations projected to experience employment growth. “The fastest growth is projected in occupations assigned to the master’s degree level; these occupations are projected to grow by 21.7 percent.”

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The stats are supportive but as a military spouse is it feasible? Over the past couple years NMFA has partnered with 2U on offering military spouse scholarships at various online graduate level programs. 2U partners with top colleges and universities to offer service members, veterans and their families the chance to earn a world-class degree from anywhere in the world — even while serving the country. Programs like the ones powered by 2U make it feasible for transient military spouses to complete their advanced degree at reputable schools.

  • Charity Mathis is enrolled in an online master’s program at Simmons College. Charity explains, “The program has worked well for me as a military spouse. I can get my kids off to school and sit down at my computer and attend class. I have even attended class in my soccer mom van at softball practice. I have seen other military spouses in my classes as well which is very encouraging to see others embarking on the same journey.”
  • Beth Ramsey, a Nursing@Simmons students explains, “I waited to pursue this degree due to the multiple military moves we have made. All that was previously offered was on campus options and I was always afraid that I would begin a program and then need to move. With this program, you get the best of both worlds, an “in class setting” from the comfort of your own home. Many of my classmates and myself have attended class from hotel rooms, other countries, and even our cars.”

Register with NMFA online to explore our 2U partner programs. There are programs for social workers, teachers, nurses, lawyers and more! Scholarships available at each partner university can reach up to $7,500.

If you need help deciding if graduate school is right for you, check out Peterson’s “A Guide for Potential Grad Students: Should You Go To Graduate School?

Pursuing a Career in Mental Health? You’re Going to Want to Know About This…

Laura Merandi, like many other military spouses, has struggled to start a career. She has faced multiple PCS moves–4 so far in her 9½ year marriage–three deployments, and several separations due to trainings. When she met her husband, Paul, she had been accepted to a top-tier graduate school in New York to get her master’s degree in social work. Her plans were detoured as a result, but she was happy to join Paul as he navigated through his career in the military. “He is the love of my life,” she shared, “of course I put everything on hold for him, for our future family. To me, there was no question, no hesitation.”

The first few years of marriage brought twin girls into their lives. With the moving, and the demands of parenting young children, her dreams of becoming a social worker had to go on the back burner for a while.

“I was so caught up in the day-to-day of caring for my twin girls, and preparing for changes that military life would bring, I just stopped thinking about my own career,” Laura explained.

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Once her girls were school-aged, Laura decided to reignite her dream of becoming a social worker. But going to that ivy-league school she was once accepted to was no longer an option. Nothing but an online or hybrid program would work for her anymore. “When I was not married to the military, I could choose colleges that were brick-and-mortar. This was not the case now. I needed to rely on programs that were available online, or if needed, programs that had some limited time on campus, but with the bulk of my time spent doing my work remotely.”

This was the first of many hurdles for Laura.

First, she struggled to find an accredited school online. There were few options online for schools with counseling or social work. So Laura decided to enroll in an online school in counseling with the right accreditation… as far as she could tell.

Laura, like many other military spouses, took on her education with the help of loans, scholarships, and grants. She excelled in her coursework, earning a 4.0 GPA during her two year master’s degree program. “I was excited,” she recalled. “I loved my coursework and found that I could design the work around my schedule and anything the military threw our way.”

Her happiness was short-lived, however, when she couldn’t t find supervision in order to get licensed. She was moving again.

And that wasn’t all.

It turned out the school she attended was regionally accredited, but not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which was now a requirement to work with many insurance panels. Particularly those who work with military service members, veterans and their families.

I was devastated. I worked so hard, raising a family, supporting my husband, and getting through a demanding program. It felt like all the doors were slammed shut on me. I couldn’t find an internship and supervisor because we kept moving and my program didn’t have the right accreditation. I couldn’t even think of getting licensed under those circumstances. Then, even if I tried to take courses in an accredited program, it was cost-prohibitive. I wanted to give up. My dream of supporting the mental health needs of our military community pretty much went up in smoke.

Just when Laura was going to give up, she found the support and friendship of other military spouses in an informal network online.

“The Military Spouse Behavioral Health Clinicians (MHBHC) social media group supported me through it.” Laura said. “I received advice from other spouses who were going through similar circumstances and had come out on the other side.

Using this network, Laura found out she could use her husband’s Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and pay for courses to complete my studies in a CACREP accredited program. But she still struggled to find a supervisor. When she finally did, it was costly, and took her much longer to reach her goals than she hoped.

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Today, Laura is searching for jobs that don’t have an issue with the moves associated with being a military family. She’s also working on her second professional license.

“Military spouses should not have to jump through so many hoops to be able to help our own community,” she shared. “What is most frustrating is that we have a nationwide shortage of providers. Why is it so hard for us to get our careers going?”

This is a question echoed by many military spouses whose career choices require them to be licensed. They face unending barriers, in some cases, just to be able to work and support their families and their community.

If we really want to be able to effect change and mitigate the mental health crisis in our communities, we need to support those who are working hard to do just that. This is why the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network, a joint effort spearheaded by the National Military Family Association, in partnership with Give an Hour, is so timely and important.

With support through military spouses’ entire journey, from finding the right educational program, to helping with supervision and licensure, and assistance finding employment, spouses will be able to break existing barriers and complete a career that is meaningful to them. These careers are so helpful to our military community. It is our hope that with the right support, spouses, like Laura, will be able to join the mental health workforce and provide services to those who need it most.

If you are a military spouse pursuing an education or career in the mental health field, join the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network and set yourself up for success in reaching those goals.

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline

6 Awesome Resources Job-Searching Military Spouses Need to Know About

A few short months before our wedding, my fiancé and I packed up and headed 1,236 miles from Kansas to Northern Virginia. As a Midwest girl, I was a fish out of water in the strong currents of the east coast. I quit my first real job and moved to a city with endless possibilities…or so I thought. Like so many others, I updated my resume and began job searching. Hitting the submit button on the online job application became my worst enemy; it was like I was sending my resume down a black hole… if only I knew then what I know now.

What do I know now, you ask? I know there are wonderful resources out there for military spouses pursuing careers, and not just careers, but portable careers. Before you start sending your resume out to the black hole of the internet, consider these available resources to help your job hunt.

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America’s Career Force

  • It’s mission: Assist career minded military spouses with portable remote careers that will follow them wherever the military takes them.
  • Does it work? As a connection between companies and the global military spouse network, America’s Career Force recently worked with a Fortune 500 company and placed a military spouse with them. The company was so excited to have her on their team and didn’t realize the struggles military spouses face, they’ve since started a military spouse hiring initiative to support military spouses further.
  • What else: CEO and Founder Leigh Searl explains, “I recently moved to Germany and the second military spouse I met said to me, ‘I have a master’s degree and there just aren’t jobs for me here. I don’t want to work as a clerk somewhere, I want to be able to use my education.’ This is exactly why I started America’s Career Force – to help professional military spouses find meaningful employment alongside their active duty service member. Remote careers are the solution to bridging the spouse unemployment gap.”

Flex Jobs

  • It’s mission: FlexJobs provides an innovative, professional job service to help you find the best flexible jobs available, safely and easily. Every job is hand-screened and legitimate. Guaranteed.
  • Does it work? Military spouse, Angie Dahlstrom, was looking for part-time employment while stationed in Korea with her family and found the perfect fit with Flex Jobs. Angie says, “I find the FlexJobs site user-friendly. I appreciated the email alerts, resume and interview support, as well as the awesome job hunter resource options available. The fact that FlexJobs offers global, remote positions was a huge plus for me!”
  • What else: FlexJobs is a partner of NMFA and offers military spouse’s subscriptions at a discounted rate. Register with NMFA for more details on this offer.

Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Program

  • It’s mission: A nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.
  • Does it work? To date, more than 28,000 veterans and military spouses have obtained jobs through Hiring Our Heroes events. More than 2,000 companies of all sizes have committed to hire 710,000 veterans and military spouses as part of the Hiring 500,000 Heroes campaign. Of those commitments, there have been more than 505,000 confirmed hires.
  • What else: Digital resources include distinct resume builders for veterans and transitioning service members, as well as military spouses; a jobs portal that allows veterans and service members to search for employment opportunities in America’s fastest growing job markets and industries; a 24/7 virtual career fair platform; an interactive employer best practices site; and a virtual mentorship program that connects veteran and spouse protégés with experienced mentors.

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Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN)

  • It’s mission: MSCCN works with spouses, caregivers, and dependents to get them employment-ready, and help them find and secure employment opportunities aligned with their experiences and goals.
  • Does it work?  In 2015, Corporate America Supports You (CASY) & MSCCN reported 7,045 (including 2,919 National Guard) hires; in 2016, CASY & MSCCN have reported 1,798 (including 786 National Guard) hires to date.
  • What else: MSCCN employment specialists, in concert with a training department, provide resume, personal branding, and interview assistance, assist applicants with the job search, and mentor applicants throughout the employment process.

Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP)

  • It’s mission: The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is a career partnership connecting military spouses with more than 300 employers who have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses. MSEP is part of the Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program that offers comprehensive information, tools and resources to support military spouse career exploration, education, training and licensing, employment readiness and career connections.
  • Does it work? More than 300 MSEP employers have hired more than 90,000 military spouses.
  • What else? MSEP is a solution to assist spouses in finding and maintaining employment to achieve their career goals, despite the challenges of frequent relocation. Military spouses can find jobs and career opportunities by logging in to the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Career Portal.

ServingTalent

  • It’s mission: ServingTalent actively finds employment for professional military spouses.
  • Does it work? It’s built strong relationships with a number of Fortune 500 and smaller firms who are really excited about working with them, and who have been simply speechless at the level of experience and education the candidates possess.
  • What else: ServingTalent President Maggie Varona, explains, “Our ultimate goal is to end the staggeringly high levels of military spouse unemployment and underemployment by building relationships with employers who understand the value we can bring to their organizations. Thanks to 21st century technology and changing employer attitudes, we can now envision an economy in which military spouses no longer have to give up on their professional ambitions simply because they fell in love with someone in the military.”

Are you a military spouse who’s had success with job searching? What job search resources have worked for you?

allie-jPosted by Allie Jones, Program Manager, Spouse Education + Professional Support

Breaking Down Barriers for Military Spouse Mental Health Providers

Military life isn’t always easy on a spouse’s career. Heck, it’s rarely easy. No matter what you choose to do, you have to contend with the changes that this life brings to the table. We know what this military life brings, we adjust, we change, we move forward, even with those challenges. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to maintain a career we love, but we find ways to make it work somehow.

For those of us who are in the mental health field, trying to find the right school, internship, supervision, getting licensed (or re-licensed) and finding a job can be a significant challenge. Add to this already difficult situation, a few PCS moves, deployments, and shifting licensing requirements from state to state and it becomes nearly impossible. When you realize we have spouses who are dealing with barriers to becoming mental health professionals, you have to wonder: why is this happening? Especially in light of the staggering suicide rate within our community, and the overwhelming shortage of providers in both the military and civilian world. To top this off, studies show there is a shortage of counselors who know the military culture. As spouses we don’t have that problem. We live it!

There’s a mental health crisis out there. So hiring our military spouse clinicians is practically a no-brainer, right? There are spouses ready and willing to serve. Why are there so many barriers in the way? Why can’t they get licensed? Hired? A foot in the door?

We wondered the same thing!

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That’s where the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network comes in. The National Military Family Association, along with its partners Give an Hour and the United Health Foundation came together to create this network in order to support the needs of our military spouse clinicians and our community at large. This network will help break down the barriers so our military spouses can help to tackle the mental health crisis in our community and beyond. It will support military spouses through the entire process of becoming a mental health professional and maintaining their license as they move from state to state or even around the globe.

How will this network do that? I’m glad you asked! The Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network will support each spouse’s journey in the process – no matter what phase they are in. If you are considering graduate school and need information on accreditation and resources for scholarships, we have that. Need supervision for licensure? We will have supervisors and resources available for you. Need licensure information? Re-Licensure information? Employment information and resources? We have that, too. As a military spouse clinician, you will find support every single step of the way through this network.

Additionally, this network will be supported with advocacy to ensure that the best interests of our community are served. The National Military Family Association will advocate on issues that impact our military spouse clinicians. This will include advocating for loan repayment and loan forgiveness, easing of re-licensing requirements, and more.

Military spouses give so much of their time and often have to sacrifice their careers in the process. It’s our hope that we can help to make this process easier for our military spouse clinicians so we can support the mental health of our entire community. Stay tuned, more information on this network will be announced here in the coming months!

Are you a military spouse with a goal to become a mental health provider? How has your journey been so far?

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Professionals Pipeline