Putting veterans to work

Fermilab's internship program expands to include more student veterans

Fermilab knows the excellent work ethic that veterans often have. That’s why the Batavia-based particle physics laboratory is expanding its VetTech internship program in hopes of permanently filling technician jobs, everything from mechanical to electrical to computing and software development. And so far, the program has been a success as more student veterans continue to apply for the program and eventually, get hired full-time.

“[Veterans’] troubleshooting skills are unparalleled,” said Aria Soha, technical program manager for Fermilab’s VetTech internship program in a statement. “They know how to work under pressure and they’re good at thinking on their feet. All the things you want in a good technician.”

The program is in its third year, and is open to all military veterans. It began in 2016 as a partnership with College of DuPage that offered internships to student veterans who were working on technical degrees.

VetTech has grown significantly in the past three years and it is now available to student veterans at community colleges and veterans groups that are within a 50-mile radius of Fermilab. This year, more than 50 veterans applied to the program and 12 were selected for an internship, which is more than the past two years combined.

“Awareness of the program has been growing,” said Sandra Charles, Fermilab’s talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion manager. “In 2018 we went broader, doing a lot of outreach. We want to drum up more exposure and have this community become more aware of who we are, of our interest and of our understanding of the value they bring to the United States, and to the lab as well.”

Even federal government officials have been impressed with the program. U.S. Dept. of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement that the VetTech program is a great opportunity for veterans who are interested in the science and technology fields as a career.

“The VetTech program connects veterans with the brilliant minds at Fermilab, America’s premier particle physics laboratory, and provides them an opportunity to apply their impressive skill sets for science and innovation,” Perry said. “In addition to creating a workforce development opportunity for our nation’s veterans, this collaboration equips the lab with the knowledge and expertise these veterans have learned during their service, providing a unique perspective to tackling some of our country’s toughest scientific challenges.”

One of this year’s interns, Frederick Davis, is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at Joliet Junior College. He spent four years working as an engineman in the Navy and now works in Fermilab’s calibration shop. The lab is expected to hire him on full-time after he graduates.

“I heard about VetTech in school,” Davis said. “I was intimidated at first when I drove in and saw Wilson Hall and saw how amazing everybody here is, what people are capable of. I had no idea what a neutrino was or anything like that, so when I first got here I was mind-blown. But everyone has been very helpful.”

Soha believes that the VetTech program will continue to grow each year and hopes to recruit more female veterans.

“I think it’s important as a national lab, as Americans, to employ veterans,” Soha said. “We owe these people a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made, and it would be ridiculous not to take advantage of the skill sets they have. It’s a win-win.”