Operation Outreach

UI Professor Heads STEM Outreach Program to Help Veterans Excel in Chemistry Class

Chemistry Platoon class


Justin Bonzato, a UI student who served eight years in the Marine Corps, hopes to become a physical therapist. He’s one of approximately 50 student veterans and military affiliates who have participated in a unique program designed to help student veterans improve their fundamental understanding of chemistry.

Bonzato recalls one of his favorite sayings from the military to describe his experience with the program: “Never above you, never below you, always beside you,” he shares. “That is the environment we want to foster in the chemistry platoon.”

The Chemistry Platoon assists students who are taking General Chemistry or Principles of Chemistry classes. They meet once or twice a week where they receive tutoring and engage in discussion review. This type of community-based academic support promotes long-term collegiate success by strengthening peer-support networks and developing effective study skills.

Scott Daly, a chemistry professor and a three-year active Army veteran and M1 Abrams tank crewman (1998–2001), created the program in collaboration with the Center for Diversity and Enrichment’s Military and Veteran Student Services.

Daly shared he was a first-generation college student and knows from personal experience that the transition from the military to college had, and continues to have, a unique set of challenges. “The Chemistry Platoon is the most rewarding thing I have done as faculty member...Many of the veterans I work with express the same doubts and frustrations I had when I made the transition from military life to college, and I think they’re surprised to hear that I struggled as well given my current position.”  

According to his research, veteran status is a statistically-significant predictor of lower performance in general chemistry. With this discovery he set off on a mission to help students thrive. Daly recently received the prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, which will fund his research preparing new metal complexes that transform carbon dioxide into more valuable chemicals. The award will also provide funding to further establish and assess the UI Chemistry Platoon.

Like many other Hawkeyes, understanding the fundamentals of chemistry is one of the required steps along their path to becoming the professionals they aspire to be, and these veterans are happy to have Professor Daly to assist along their journey. “If it wasn’t for him, this program wouldn’t exist. Even with his busy schedule, he makes time to look out for his [veterans and military affiliates],” says Bonzato.  

In the near future the platoon will offer more sessions led by student veteran and former platoon members who did well in chemistry. With the additional funding they’ve increased efforts to assess the program’s impact on academic success and retention.

For more information, contact Scott Daly, scott-daly@uiowa.edu | 319-384-1356 (office) | 319-384-1350 (lab) | W474 Chemistry Building.

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Military and Veteran Student Services provides resources, guidance and assistance to veterans, dependents, and active-duty members attending the University of Iowa: diversity.uiowa.edu/veterans.