Friday, July 31, 2015

TOP STORY >> Education Center continuously learning

By Tammy Reed
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Base education center officials are continuously studying how to best deliver the services and programs students need and want in an ever-changing landscape of learning. 

The center serves a diverse community by providing educational opportunities and counseling services to active-duty personnel, Guard and reserve members, DOD Civilian employees, adult family members and military retirees, as well as off-base civilians. 

Since taking over as Education Services Officer in April, Gina Thursby has been ramping up the University Center’s presence through outreach programs around the base to let people know the center is there and what it offers. She is actively engaging people to find out their education needs. 

“Getting an education is why some people join the military, and it changes their lives. Some of them are the first in their family to get a degree, and that is just a stepping stone for the next, and the next and the next level -- the sky’s the limit. Some people come here lost. We provide them the direction they need,” she said. 

One of her heartfelt goals for the colleges at the center is getting a huge response from their upcoming needs assessment survey. 

“When you do needs assessments, if there is an overwhelming response for a particular program that we don’t currently offer, that’s what helps us bring those new programs onto the base,” Thursby explained. “Without that response, without showing a need, then we really don’t have the opportunity to reach out to any other colleges or to the colleges we already have to bring those additional programs here.”

The key for Thursby and her staff will be turning the survey feedback into cutting-edge programs and services for students. They are taking their message of change to the Airman Leadership School, First Term Airmen Center and commander’s calls, just to be visible to as many Airmen as possible.

“Master Sgt. Shawna Budde and one of our new counselors set up at the last newcomer’s orientation just to be right there visible and available to the brand new people that come on base,” Thursby said. “We’re partnering more with our on-base schools to educate them, as there have been a lot of changes in education over the last couple of years.  I think there’s some confusion and ambiguity on what they can and can’t do with their marketing, so we’re increasing our relationship with our local schools.”

The center includes six colleges which offer associate through master’s level degrees in a variety of programs to the both military and local civilian population. They are also responsible for professional military education offerings and proctoring testing for enlisted promotions.  

She said there’s more initiatives on the horizon such as an education fair, CLEP-A-Thons and an education tour, all with the goal of not just increasing enrollment at the schools, but helping them stay relevant.

Some improvements Thursby and her staff are working include streamlining promotion testing by making some of the steps electronic instead of paper and using e-documents to help Airmen save valuable time. 

The University Center staff also helps Airmen move on once their time with the Air Force is done. Mike Jones, a newly-hired education specialist, offers the educational track for the Transition Goals, Plans, Success curriculum as part of his duties. 

Transition GPS is a five-day workshop all service members attend when transitioning back to civilian life and, at the end, they have the option to go one of three tracks: technical training, entrepreneurial and educational tracks.

Jones explained that what’s been found in the past is there are many veterans who are jobless, and we want to combat that by making things available to them to help them move smoothly away from the military.

“We try to set them up for success by transitioning them; by them choosing which track they want to take. The one I teach is a two-day course called Accessing Higher Education, and what we do in this track is find the right career choice for that former Airman.”

He added that although a member may have been a mechanic while serving, their goals may be different now.  

“We have ways of finding what the best career opportunities would be for them now, and we try to guide them down that path,” he said. “Then we find the right school and program for them to apply to.”

He also works with transitioning Airmen on funding for school and then on actually applying for college.  He believes the two-day course is a great help for those wanting to pursue their higher education after the military. 

“I’m really passionate about education and learning, and I don’t think it should be something that ends,” Jones said.  “Learning is a lifelong thing; it is something we should always be pursuing.”

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