By Sherry DiBari

Kathleen Higgins and Michelle Humphreys were recently named winners of this year’s SoldierStrong Scholarship at Old Dominion University. The scholarship, funded by a SoldierStrong endowment to the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, supports female veterans interested in STEM degrees.


For Kathleen Higgins, raised by a single mother and grandmother in Aurora, Illinois, growing up was an adventure. “The community was kind of poor and a little bit crime-ridden,” she explained. “My family was part of a major push to change it. They used to go to City Hall and council meetings to help get rid of the crime.”

“It was definitely an interesting way to grow up,” she added.

Higgins joined the military right after high school. As a first-generation student, she was encouraged to take the military pathway by her mother and father – both Army veterans.

In the Navy, Higgins worked as an aviation structural safety equipment mechanic on different models of F-18s. “I got to opportunity to work on F-18’s Alpha through Foxtrot,” she said.

Higgins transitioned out of the Navy in 2020 after eight years of service. She took a position at Boeing before heading back to school.

“At Boeing, I was exposed to different types of aviation jobs, and I worked closely with engineers,” she said. “After working side-by-side with them and their push to help me take that next step, it gave me the confidence that I could definitely do this.”

It was an easy transition to the program at Old Dominion where Higgins is currently a mechanical engineering major with a focus on aerospace engineering.

Outside of school, Higgins spends time doing jujitsu and yoga. She also loves to read.

After she finishes her degree, Higgins hopes to obtain a position as an aerospace engineer.



Michelle Humphreys, a civil engineering major, grew up in a close-knit family in Passaic, New Jersey. The family later moved to a better neighborhood in the suburbs of Parsippany, New Jersey.

Humphreys, the first in her family to pursue a STEM degree, joined the Navy right out of high school. She had already been thinking of joining the military when she met with a recruiter. “They offered all these magical benefits,” she said. “And I thought, ‘That's a no-brainer. Why would I go to college first not really being sure what I wanted to do when I can go to college for free later?’”

In the Navy, Humphreys served as a nuclear electrician's mate aboard the USS George Washington. She transitioned into civilian life in 2020 after six years of service.

Her pathway to ODU had a year-long delay. Her husband, also in the military, had his plans change because of the pandemic. “His orders got all scrambled and I didn't know where we were going to be,” she said.

At ODU, one of her favorite professors has been Shahin Nayyeri Amiri, a senior lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “He's funny and he gives nuggets of wisdom and life lessons and career insight while he's teaching,” she said. “Everything he does, he relates to the field as he's teaching.”

In her free time, Humphreys lifts weights and tries out new recipes at home. She also spends time with her Miniature Pinscher. “She's like having a big dog because of her energy,” Humphreys said. “She just loves to play and walk. She’s just a lot of fun.”

After graduation, Humphreys hopes to find an meaningful engineering position. “I have to feel like I'm making an impact and that what I'm doing makes a difference,” she said.