Every college journey is unique, but for transfer students, the path to finding the right fit can be particularly challenging. As a transfer student, April Sayers, is not only pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biological systems engineering but has also joined the new Defense Civilian Training Corps program with the Department of Defense (DoD) which aims to provide support to students interested in working for the DoD or military. 

Sayers, a junior, initially aspired to build a career in genetics. Her college journey began at George Mason University, but she soon realized it wasn't the right fit for her. After a friend invited her down for a tour of Virginia Tech, Sayers fell in love with the beauty of the campus and the engineering program. For April, the process of transferring to Virginia Tech was both nerve-wracking and exciting. 

During her first visit to Virginia Tech, Sayers attended a College of Engineering information fair. At the time, she had her sights set on biomedical engineering. However, a conversation with biological systems engineering ambassadors persuaded her to join the program. She liked its smaller size, strong networking opportunities, and freedom to tailor her academic journey to her interests. 

After a successful year at Virginia Tech, Sayers learned about a new scholarship program from her student advisor. The Defense Civilian Training Corps (DCTC)  program, a collaboration between Virginia Tech, three other pilot universities, and the Department of Defense, helps students start careers within the DoD or the military. The inaugural cohort that began in Fall 2023 consists of 30 students - 15 civilian students and 15 cadets who, in addition to their major, participate in defense-related coursework. Sayers is among them.

“Learning more about how the civilian world supports the military world and vice versa really appealed to me,” she said. “My sister is currently in the Air Force, and I saw all the support she had and wanted to understand it from the civilian side while also serving the country.” 

The DCTC program covers 100% of tuition for a student’s final two years of college, along with a summer internship placement and job upon graduation. For Sayers, the program has provided the support she needs to pursue her career aspirations while serving the country. Like her sister before her, Sayers said, she has a safety net allowing her to focus on her education and future. 

The program’s curriculum is designed for interdisciplinary, project-based learning, and students are matched with career opportunities based on their individual interests. During one of her classes, Sayers heard how her biotechnology skills and degree could be used within the Department of Defense or elsewhere in the military. 

“We had a speaker talk about his career path and how the Department of Defense and other agencies always need engineers but that they sometimes struggle to fill those positions because they want a civilian influence to make it well rounded,” she said. “That really showed me that no matter your background, you could have a place somewhere you might not have initially thought possible.” 

The program clears a path to a DoD career for participating students, but also leaves room for them to transition into graduate school or explore other opportunities after graduation. 

For the inaugural cohort of students in the DCTC program, there’s a sense of responsibility to set the foundation for the next generation of participants. As Sayers continues to navigate academic and career opportunities ahead, she will help leave a lasting mark as part of the pioneering group shaping the future of the program. 

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to demonstrate the program’s potential for success,” said Sayers. “The diversity within the cohort, of both civilians and cadet students, adds a unique aspect.”