A First-Person Perspective on the AMU Student Experience

By: Lieutenant General (USMC, Ret.) Thomas L. Conant, APUS Board of Trustees

As the newest member of the American Public University System (APUS) Board of Trustees and an alumnus of the AMU Class of 2005, I would like to offer a perspective on the importance of an American Military University (AMU) degree to our military and civilian students and their spouses.

It is with great pride that I earned a Masters in Military Studies, Defense Management, with honors, the result of my instructors pushing me hard to sharpen my critical thinking and demonstrate that important aspect of higher education. This required a disciplined approach to a declarative writing style that spoke to the essence of problem-solving and solution sets presented in written form.

I remember setting aside every other weekend to slug my way through research and writing assignments, and using weeknights for assigned readings. As I proceeded, every other weekend turned into every weekend; not because of the course load, but because I caught the “want to do this and get it right” bug that most graduate students ultimately do.  What I discovered along this road of discovery was that I came to enjoy the research, learning about new concepts, organizing my thoughts via outline, and finally producing a report for grading.  I  remember awaiting the return envelope with the graded effort and comments from the professor.  The comments always encouraged me to create my own stretch goals to discover the truth, to focus the research, and narrow the argument or point assigned in a precise summation.  The ability to be verbose in writing did not impress my professors; they insisted that I persuasively present the problem, description, arguments, and solutions within a word limit to focus the mind on the real task at hand.

This subtle, and sometimes to the point, essence of the exercise was always to delve into the problem set through extensive research, find the truth to the problem presented somewhere in the pile of papers cluttering my extra bedroom, and then to focus my effort on a presentation addressing the issue to be discussed and nothing more. Equally imperative was the need to  ensure your endnotes were truly representative of the research providing the answer to the problem presented.

I found that distance learning allowed me to explore, discover, and validate my ability to succeed in graduate education. This effort coincided with working full-time as a Marine Colonel responsible for the Marine Corps Aviation Program, Policy, and Budget submissions.  My AMU experience, professors and support staff was nothing but outstanding over the 18 months I pursued my degree.

I was fortunate to attend the 2016 graduation ceremony held at National Harbor, Maryland, and was simply astounded by the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees conferred on that day. The opportunity to observe the weekend activities and turnout of the student families and friends was breathtaking.  In contrast, I recall that we may have had just 30 graduate degrees conferred in May 2005 when I received my degree at the Army-Navy Country Club.  As part of APUS, AMU is truly a success story and it is my hope that we encourage other alumni to also share with our current students their experience in gaining their degree and the impact on both their personal and professional lives from taking on the challenging task and hard work required to graduate.

I sincerely hope we continue to build and broaden the APUS alumni family that is willing to give back to this great institution what it has given us — an education that has allowed us to succeed personally and professionally. In partnership with President Powell, I dedicate myself to work on building this new paradigm of alumni relations where we all proudly declare our alma mater as American Public University System.

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