September 1, 2023

Defense Civilian Training Corps at Purdue creates path to service

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Twenty Purdue juniors and a host of university officials met Wednesday (Aug. 30) for the start of a big endeavor with a lot of promise: The students are the first cohort of the Defense Civilian Training Corps at Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus.

DCTC is a pilot talent development program that provides its scholars with a direct pathway to civilian careers with the Defense Department. Its multidisciplinary, experiential-learning curriculum and summer internships at DOD organizations encourage scholars to develop leadership skills and a collaborative mindset, preparing them to work on diverse, innovative teams within the defense ecosystem.

And Purdue is one of just four universities selected for the project.

Dan DeLaurentis, vice president for research institutes and centers in the Discovery Park District at Purdue and the principal investigator for Purdue’s program, said the university is thrilled to be a DCTC pilot school, noting that successive Purdue presidents and university leadership have stated unequivocally that national defense is part of the land-grant mission to improve the lives of people, families and communities.

“The DCTC program is the latest and broadest example of us stepping up to the plate in workforce development,” DeLaurentis said. “We consider it an honor but also are aware of the heavy responsibility we have to ensure success of the pilot.”

Congress approved DCTC as part of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. DCTC comes under the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and is supported by the Acquisition Innovation Research Center. Purdue is among 28 universities collaborating with the center and among four chosen as DCTC schools. The others are North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the University of Arizona, and Virginia Tech. 

“For 18 months, we all have to provide overwhelming evidence that this can and will work at scale,” DeLaurentis said.

Full tuition, career mentoring and security clearance application are among the benefits of DCTC to eligible students. When Purdue learned in May it was among the four schools chosen for the DCTC pilot, officials had to scramble to get the first cohort in place in time for the Fall 2023 semester. But they found interest was high; once the message was out about DCTC, more than 80 rising juniors applied for a spot.

Getting a security clearance motivated DCTC scholar Nicholas Canovas, currently a junior in aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue, to apply. “I already know I want to work within the government and that I want to support the warfighter. The scholarship and stipend were a huge bonus and an important part of my decision to pursue the DCTC program,” he said. “This program helps students obtain a security clearance and exposes them to the various opportunities that the DOD has to offer.”

The 20 Purdue students in the program are in majors spanning the College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts, Purdue Polytechnic Institute and the Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business. The diverse academic makeup of the cohort is designed to mimic the multidisciplinary teams across the DOD civilian workforce and equip scholars with the skills required to make an impact within the defense acquisition space.

Retiring Air Force Col. Ken Callahan, the former commander of Purdue’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, is program director for Purdue’s DCTC pilot program. He will mentor these scholars, educating them on the Defense Department and its acquisitions system, developing their teamwork and leadership skills, and helping them appreciate the unique DDD culture and core values.

“This culture includes a deep sense of meaning and purpose in national defense work and a strong connection with others they work with,” Callahan said. “We use the phrase ‘culture of care’ in DCTC to describe the sense of meaning and connection we are developing among our scholars.”

That fits the ideals of DCTC scholar Jarod Liwanag perfectly. “The armed forces have not only brought my family citizenship but also gave us a means to the middle-class American life,” he said.

Coming from a family with a long history of military service — Liwanag’s grandfather served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, his father enlisted just before 9/11 happened, and he himself joined the Army after high school — he sees DCTC as a way to carry on the family legacy as well as gain career opportunities.

Liwanag has done an internship with the Army Corps of Engineers and finds the opportunity to branch out to other DOD organizations exciting, he said. He also had interned at a private-sector business and found the work he did with the Corps to be more fulfilling — more service over profit.

Liwanag was part of a dam renovation project at Brookville that protected a nearby community from flooding. “Financially, the government lost money, but this dam needed to be built to protect the people living there,” Liwanag said. “That is the kind of organization that I want to be a part of, and DCTC provides me with a path to do so.”

Liwanag likes that DCTC can let him check out other DOD segments he may have never thought about. “My future plans are still a bit muddy, but DCTC could help clear it up a little,” he said. “The people I meet through DCTC could help me in unexpected ways many years down the line.”

Applications for the next cohort will open in October. For more information, visit the Purdue DCTC website and the federal Defense Civilian Training Corps website.

Writer/Media contact: Evamarie Socha, ecsocha@purdue.edu

Sources: Daniel Delaurentis, ddelaure@purdue.edu

Mary Ann Bobillo, mbobillo@purdue.edu

Ken Callahan, kcallah@purdue.edu

Jarod Liwanag, jpliwana@purdue.edu

Nicholas Canovas, ncanovas@purdue.edu

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