When Brandon Geisler received a medical discharge from the job he loved as a U.S. Marine drill instructor, he felt unmoored. Geisler, who served from 2001 to 2006, hadn’t contemplated a career apart from the Marines.
Unsure of what he wanted to do, he bounced from unemployment to roofing to installing cable. That job sparked an interest in networking technology so he decided to return to school to pursue a degree in information technology. After earning his associate’s degree from Northern Essex Community College, he transferred to UMass Lowell.
Geisler found success in the classroom but he knew something was lacking from his resume: professional high-tech experience. When he heard about a new co-op work program specifically for student veterans, Geisler was quick to apply. He was accepted into the program and spent six months working full-time at NetScout Systems, a Westford-based networking software firm.
“This is exactly what I was looking for,” says Geisler, who expects to earn his bachelor’s degree in September 2014. “I’m getting the professional experience that I was missing.”
Wired for Work
Geisler and three other UMass Lowell student veterans are the first participants in the Wired for Work initiative, a unique pilot program that seeks to improve unemployment among veterans and prepare them for technology careers. Launched earlier this year, the program is a partnership between the Chirag Foundation, NetScout and UMass Lowell. Students get hands-on job training through paid six-month co-op placements. At the same time, a pipeline of highly skilled candidates for tech-sector jobs is established.
The program took root when NetScout CEO Anil Singhal and his wife Abha Singhal, who are Chirag Foundation trustees, were looking for a way to address joblessness among veterans. For those who fought in wars after Sept. 11, 2001, finding work after discharge from the military has been particularly challenging. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for those veterans is nearly 10 percent, compared to a 7 percent overall national jobless rate.
Through the Chirag Foundation, the Singhals wanted to come up with an innovative approach to help solve the problem. “There are so many veterans coming home,” says Abha Singhal. “We wanted to make a difference for them.”
A state veteran services official directed the Singhals to UMass Lowell, which has been recognized for its support for veterans and is home to a growing co-op education program. For Abha Singhal, it was a return to familiar ground: She earned an MBA from the University in 1988.
Vets Back in Action
The University’s Office of Veterans Services
helped recruit students majoring in information technology, computer science and engineering and the Career Services and Cooperative Education Center created a professional development seminar to prepare the student veterans for the job market. Resume help, mock interviews and discussions about expectations in the workforce are some of the topics covered. Students had to apply for specific positions at NetScout and go through interviews.
“The student learning has been exceptional. The student veterans are tremendously proud and grateful for the opportunity and eager to share their new knowledge,” says Diane Hewitt, director of cooperative education. “NetScout has been a willing and helpful partner through this start-up phase. Students have been treated with respect, learned a great deal, encountered real work challenges and have benefited from interested supervisors and mentors.”
For Geisler, the NetScout job was his first professional position outside the military. He was assigned to tech support for service-delivery engineering, a position that was a good fit, he says.
“I like being able to fix problems,” he says. “It’s a great work environment here. There’s a tight camaraderie.”
His NetScout co-workers have been generous with their time and their guidance.
“Everyone here is all about teaching me,” he says.
Geisler is looking forward to applying what he’s learned on the job to his classes when he returns to campus.
The Chirag Foundation and NetScout have committed to the pilot for at least three years. The plan is to gradually build the program. Anil Singhal believes it could be a model for other private businesses in Massachusetts and around the country.
“More people will need to start getting involved to scale the program to other companies. It could go statewide or nationwide,” he says.
The second group of student veterans will begin their assignments at NetScout in January.