Department of Defense SkillBridge program helps active-duty service members prepare for civilian life

July 3, 2024

The University of Arizona has welcomed nearly 150 service members through this program

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Picture of Skillbridge luncheon attendees

Several SkillBridge participants and their campus hosts at a luncheon on May 24, 2024.

Leslie Hawthorne Klingler, Research Development Services, RII

Nearly 150 service members have participated across 28 departments at the U of A to date. Despite growing participation, those familiar with the program believe it remains underutilized.

When the University of Arizona was named a 2023 Best for Vets Institution by the Military Times, it maintained the university’s reputation among members of the United States Armed Forces for the sixth consecutive year.

The recognition is influenced by various factors, including innovative programs like participation in the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, according to Terry Higgins, the U of A’s SkillBridge administrator.

"SkillBridge is a win-win for both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the University of Arizona," Higgins said. "The university contributes a service to the military community while gaining skilled employees at no additional payroll cost."

The DOD SkillBridge program helps facilitate a smooth transition for service members into civilian roles through work internships with civilian institutions and companies during their final 180 days of active duty. Participants spend three to six months working in a field of interest while still receiving military benefits. The civilian experience helps the service member bridge the cultural gap between military service and life after, said Nate Hogan, research associate for National Security Programs at Research Development Services (RDS). Host institutions benefit from service members’ contributions without financial expense and they have the opportunity to assess potential employees before making long-term hiring decisions. 

SkillBridge at the University of Arizona

Nearly 150 service members have participated across 28 departments at the U of A to date. Despite growing participation, those familiar with the program believe it remains underutilized.

"SkillBridge is already a tremendous asset for the university, but there's much more potential for its integration across our colleges and departments," said Cody Nicholls, associate director of National Security Programs for RDS.

RDS, the SkillBridge hub at U of A, recently welcomed participants and their campus hosts to a networking luncheon. Jay Martin, a former officer in the U.S. Air Force who is now employed with Tech Launch Arizona, said these opportunities were valuable to Skillbridge participants as well as their new colleagues in academia.

“When they learn I was in the Air Force, they think all I did was fly planes,” he said. “I have to explain that, as an officer, I managed a dozen programs and had about three jobs in addition to that.”

SkillBridge required Martin to expand his professional engagement capacities since his placement put him in direct contact with stakeholders.

“It was a stark shift from my military environment,” he said. “The exposure was eye-opening and instrumental in my career transition. It was like a deprogramming, figuring out how I can take the skills I've collected in the last two decades and make them work in the marketplace.”

Yvette Mathesen, senior lecturer in the College of Nursing, has supported three program participants and plans to host her fourth intern in the fall. They inspire her team to improve simulations for nursing students.

“Most simulations with patients who are veterans are predictable: usually incorporating  PTSD and alcohol and drug use,” she said. “SkillBridge reminds our team that vets come with all kinds of different stories and experiences.”  

If you are interested in hosting a SkillBridge intern or just learning more about the program, visit the U of A SkillBridge webpage contact Terrence Higgins, SkillBridge and workforce development administrator, RDS, skillbridge@arizona.edu.  

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