By Hiroko Sato
LOWELL -- In his years of working in a nuclear-reactor room on a Navy ship, Scott Silbernagel became masterful at boiling down a message to a few, concise words.
That's because Silbernagel and his colleagues couldn't afford misunderstanding each other, even though the room was buzzing with machines, he said.
But the 27-year-old UMass Lowell sophomore in the electrical-engineering program knows explaining his unique skill -- and how it can be applied to other jobs -- may not always be easy when interviewing with prospective employers.
That's where Edge4Vets comes in, said Tom Murphy, who developed the career-development program that is being provided at some East Coast locations, including at UMass Lowell.
The program helps veterans adjust from military culture to civilian mentality, and learn how to tout their personal achievements instead of team efforts. It also brings in industry mentors to help participants network for job opportunities.
UMass Lowell has become the first university to adopt the Edge4Vets program because, as Chancellor Marty Meehan said, it's not acceptable to leave those who served the country unemployed.
"We will not rest until each one of the veterans finds a job," Meehan said.
Edge4Vets, a three-day program designed to provide student veterans with job-interview skills to enter the life-sciences industry, kicked off at UMass Lowell on Friday.
Led by Covidien, a medical-device manufacturer in Ireland with U.S. headquarters in Mansfield, with support from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Fresenius Medical Care and Haemonetics, Edge4Vets shows ex-military men and women how to articulate their strengths, and guarantees an interview for an internship opportunity at the end of the program.
After the pilot program, held last summer in Boston and involving 25 nonstudents, 30 percent of participants secured jobs, according to Murphy.
With more than 1,400 student veterans enrolled, UMass Lowell is ranked among the most military-friendly schools by G.I. Jobs magazine, according to the university. The university has ROTC units and an office of veterans services.
Meehan said working with Edge4Vets reflects UMass Lowell's commitment to helping veterans.
Michael Dunford, senior vice president of human resources at Covidien, said matching the students with industry mentors sets Edge4Vets apart from similar programs.
"Networking is what it's all about," Dunford said.
Edge4Vets at UMass Lowell, which will continue with a three-hour session Friday and again on March 28, involves 25 student veterans. In addition to mentors from the sponsoring companies, Chris King from the state Department of Veterans' Services will take part in the program.
Murphy stressed that the veterans must replace the "We" mentality with an "I" mentality, and try to sell themselves in job interviews.
Corwin Hee, director of information system at Covidien, who served in the Army from 1990 through 1994, also said the sole goal for men and women in the military is to accomplish missions, and they can have a hard time explaining why a company should hire them over others.
Nick Pulliam, a Chelmsford resident who helps with quality assurance of products at Fresenius Medical Care in Waltham, said he had difficulties transitioning back to the job he had at a different company in 2005 after serving in Iraq with the Army. His approach to solving problems had changed, he said.
Pulliam, who now uses his experience to serve as a mentor for Edge4Vets, said he also felt a void in the absence of veterans around him who would understand what he went through.
Alex Gerrish, a 22-year-old UMass Lowell junior from Dracut, currently serves in the Army National Guard while majoring in business/accounting and criminal justice. He said how to showcase his work ethic in a job interview is among the things he want to learn in the program.
Chris Reinke, an ex-Marine, said he is an example of success with Edge4Vets. After attending the pilot program last summer, the Marlboro resident, who had taught leadership courses at the College of the Holy Cross and Yale University while still in the military, successfully landed a sales job with Covidien.
Many mentors and students said leadership is one undeniable quality that most veterans possess.
"Leadership is a universal strength," said Steve Daniels, vice president of business operations and emerging markets at Covidien, who began his career at the company 20 years ago after six years in the Navy.
The only thing veterans need to know, Daniels said, is what opportunities are out there and how they fit in those positions.