An innovative program run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation matches service members in their final months of active duty with businesses and organizations
St. Louis innovation hub T-REX, a USGIF sustaining partner, didn’t have to look far to land its next geospatial director—but it did have to get creative.
In many ways, Kevin Golinghorst is a perfect fit for the nonprofit. With 27 years of experience in the U.S. Army, including several years as a geospatial capability manager for the Army, Golinghorst has the subject matter expertise as well as the relationships needed to act as a conduit between industry and government. What’s more, Golinghorst spent much of the last decade in St. Louis, first as a colonel based at nearby Fort Leonard Wood, and then as commander and district engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis office.
Yet there were a few potential sticking points that could have prevented a match. For one, the job at T-REX had been open for most of 2023, and while the organization needed someone to take the program’s lead as quickly as possible, Golinghorst’s commitment to the Army ran through November 16. Second, when someone forges an entire career in the armed services, it’s often difficult to project how their performance will translate to the private sector.
So Golinghorst and T-REX Executive Director Patricia Hagen took advantage of a unique program run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that places service members in their final months of active duty with businesses and organizations where they serve as fellows. Called Hiring Our Heroes, the program has facilitated more than 8,000 fellowships since 2015, leading to job offers at the conclusion of the fellowship in 90 percent of cases, according to program data. The program enabled Golinghorst to start work at T-REX while still on the Army’s payroll, and to spend the Fall assessing whether the job was a strong long-term fit.
Of course, not every participant enters the program having already run an Army Corps of Engineers district office. In T-REX’s case, Golinghorst’s fellowship was perhaps more about the organization recruiting him than Golinghorst showing he was up to the task. Still, Golinghorst entered the fellowship genuinely uncertain about whether he would enjoy the work. That changed during the fellowship as Golinghorst worked alongside the entrepreneurs who visited T-REX’s downtown offices and also coordinated the organization’s monthly Geosaurus Unleashed networking event.
“What was great about it was just the feel of this entrepreneurially focused organization that was supporting people who are really going after” pressing geospatial challenges, says Golinghorst. “It just seemed like every day reinforced that this is a good team with a good mission and good people that we’re supporting.”
That resonance is just what T-REX’s Hagen was counting on when the fellowship began. And as she watched Golinghorst interact with people at T-REX through the Fall, she grew even more excited about the fit.
“Kevin’s ability to connect with people and to engage with new ideas is unique and outstanding, so we knew that he could make connections for us in government, industry, academia, and with all of our stakeholders,” Hagen says.
Golinghorst also demonstrated an affinity for forging connections with the hundreds of entrepreneurs who turn to T-REX to help nurture their geospatial startups. Hagen says Golinghorst “is a curious person, and you have to have that in order to make connections with those who are involved in innovating at the earliest stages.”
Golinghorst started his full-time T-REX position in November. His duties include oversight of the organization’s 16,000-square foot Geospatial Innovation Center. T-REX also is home to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)’s Moonshot Labs innovation hub; T-REX collaborates with the NGA under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement that serves NGA mission objectives focused on technology transfer, innovation, and workforce development.
Golinghorst remains a Hiring Our Heroes fellow, which means that, in addition to his T-REX duties, he also participates in weekly conference calls with a cohort of other fellows making the transition out of military service. Topics range from how to succeed in corporate cultures that are less hierarchical than the military, to how to dress in a uniform-less environment.
The weekly calls occur on Fridays—otherwise a day off for the Hiring Our Heroes fellows, who work four days a week at their fellowship sites. After one November call, which happened to be on Veteran’s Day, Golinghorst contemplated how to spend his free afternoon, ultimately leaning toward heading downtown to his new workplace.
“I’ll probably stop by T-REX,” he said. “Just because I like it.”