Military-connected women arrive on campus for Focus Forward Fellowship mentoring program

Seventeen women student veterans and service members from around the United States have arrived on the campus of Purdue University to participate in the 2022 Focus Forward Fellowship. An initiative of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, the Fellowship is a national mentoring program that helps military-connected women hone academic and career skills and build a community of support for success.

Fellows are chosen through a competitive process and attend the program on scholarship, thanks to funding from Lilly Endowment, Inc., and corporate sponsors. This year’s cohort includes 17 women from 14 different colleges and universities, representing four branches of service and diverse areas of academic study. Thirteen are veterans; one is a veteran and reserve member; three are on active duty; and one is in the National Guard.

“We are excited to assist these women as they grow in their personal and professional development,” says MFRI Director and Distinguished Professor Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth. “Women veterans and service members serve many roles as they balance family, school and career responsibilities. The Fellowship helps them build on these experiences for future success.”

During the residency July 20-24, Fellows will attend sessions taught by leading professionals — many of whom have military connections  — on strengths-based leadership, communication styles, professional networking, personal branding and emotional intelligence. They will also meet one-on-one with career mentors and participate in group coaching led by women veterans.

After returning home, Fellows will participate in an online community throughout the upcoming academic year to provide each other with ongoing support.

Women are the fastest growing segment of veterans. Data from the Purdue-Gallup index shows that, in comparison to their male counterparts, women veterans are more likely to use the educational benefits they earned through service.

However, military-connected women students are typically nontraditional, ranging in age from 25 to 35 and older. Often, they have family and work responsibilities along with school. Among members of MFRI’s 2021 cohort, for example, 43% reported having dependent children at home.

These characteristics can be strengths, says Stacy Parnell, senior education and employment specialist with MFRI. 

“Military-connected students often begin college with advanced technical skills. Additionally, a large percentage of post-9/11 women veterans — 82% — have joined the military to receive education benefits, so they are typically very motivated to succeed,” Parnell says.

“Finally, having military, parenting and/or work experience can enrich a student’s understanding of the world. Through the Fellowship, we help women capitalize on these strengths for academic and career success.”

To learn more or find out ways you can support the Focus Forward Fellowship, contact Parnell at or 765-496-6580. Follow the social media conversation at #FWDFellows.