In continuation of the military veterans program in the Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte and in a new collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has awarded a three-year $750,000 grant to fund an undergraduate veteran students research exchange program between the two universities. The new Shaping Experiential Research for Veteran Education (SERVE) program will provide military veterans in STEM fields with opportunities to perform research that addresses priorities of the US Navy, and through that research experience encourage veterans to continue their education in graduate programs.

The principle investigator for the project from UNC Charlotte is Dr. Jerry Dahlberg of the Lee College of Engineering’s Mechanical Engineering Department. “This is the fourth ONR grant in a series of funding to expand the number of military veterans studying STEM disciplines at UNC Charlotte,” Dr. Dahlberg said. “SERVE is a great opportunity for UNC Charlotte veterans to experience another university’s research expertise. Working with the University of Tennessee, and its allied Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is an experience not many students are exposed to. We hope this experience will convince the veterans to go on to graduate school, which will enhance the continuing veterans graduate programs at both universities.”

UNC Charlotte’s relationship with the Office of Naval Research dates back to 2014. The purpose of ONR’s first grant to the Forty Niners was to attract military veterans into undergraduate programs. A second ONR grant was for attracting veterans into graduate programs, and a third grant helped establish virtual engineering programs for disabled veterans. Together, the ONR grants have created what is now known at UNC Charlotte as VECTER, the Veteran Education Continued through Engineering Research program, which assists veterans in STEM fields through several different independent topic areas.

“Veteran women and men are a growing national resource encompassing capabilities and experiences beyond those obtainable in civilian life,” said Michael Simpson, director of education and workforce at ONR. “SERVE is a strategic partnership that will enable further development of select individuals, their mentors, their institutions, and national security.”

For the research exchange program, faculty members at either university will first submit project proposals. Once approved by the two universities’ investigators and ONR, the projects will be advertised to students at the opposite university, who will apply to work on the projects during a summer exchange. The ONR grant will fund travel, housing, a stipend and laboratory supplies for the research projects.

The first iteration of projects proposals is due by Oct. 31, 2020, and students will be named to approved projects in March 2021. The deadline for the second iteration of proposals is Oct. 31, 2021.

“By involving veterans in STEM research, we hope that they will bring their experiences and willingness to serve to help the drive towards developing new and innovative future Naval capabilities,” said Margo Staruch, a research physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, which will provide research mentorship and guidance to SERVE participants. “I look forward to collaborating with the students to help them advance their own careers and advance potential new capabilities for our military.”

For more information on the SERVE grant and UNC Charlotte STEM military veterans programs see this website  or contact Dr. Dahlberg at

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