Nobody will ever accuse Mike Cochran of being resistant to change.
The 51-year-old native of Webster Springs is in his second stint in the military, this time serving in the West Virginia Army National Guard out of Camp Dawson in Kingwood. Also, he and his wife have owned and operated Kinder Haus, a child care facility in Morgantown for the past 20 years.
He has degrees from West Virginia University and Marshall and served as a state police trooper in Preston County. So when Cochran heard about the Executive MBA program at WVU, it wasn’t long before his curiosity turned to action.
“I grew up in a three-room shack in Webster County,” Cochran said. “Not that I want to get away from that, but most of the guys I grew up with have worked in the woods as loggers or something like that – I think only a couple of them have made it out of the county. I was pretty poor growing up.
“It’s a personal thing to me. I want to go as far as I can.”
Cochran is one of 10 national guardsmen enrolled in a new, special section of WVU’s online Executive MBA program, which the College of Business and Economics debuted this month. The flexibility of the online course has been a selling point to working professionals but it’s especially attractive to students with military commitments. Their benefits, along with the availability of support from the College, make it affordable. And, unlike regular Executive MBA enrollees, students with military obligations have three years to fulfill course requirements instead of two.
“Many of the national guardsmen also have civilian jobs so they’re pulling double duty on top of having a family, on top of being a community member,” Elizabeth Vitullo, Ph.D., director of B&E’s master’s programs, said. “This was our way of trying to address some of those needs.”
Attracting members of the military has been a strategic initiative of the college and WVU. B&E signed a memo of understanding with the WV National Guard last year and hopes to eventually fill a course section entirely with service men and women. The initiative has not only brought the guardsmen into the program, there are several others with military connections in the 29-member class, including a student who is in the U.S. Air Force, two in the Army Reserves and a retired naval officer.
Veterans and individuals with ties to the military make up a significant portion of West Virginia’s population, but, until recently, had been overlooked in many institutions’ recruiting strategies.
Attracting students in the military, “helps our enrollment and the diversity in our classes,” Gary Insch, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate programs and associate professor of management, said.
“There’s a lot of leadership skills they can bring into a classroom and a lot of experience they can bring to an executive MBA program which is beneficial to the other students. There’s a good synergy of the application of what they’re doing in the military and what our business executive MBAs are doing. They learn a lot from one another.”
The 10-member group is made up of guardsmen with full- and part-time commitments and individuals who are stationed around the state, including WV Air National Guard outposts in Martinsburg and Charleston. Having a group from Camp Dawson, which will serve as a built-in support system, is another attraction Executive MBA offers, according to Kerry Gnik, one of the Camp Dawson group.
“The team that I’m here with, we all have the same objective – to help Camp Dawson grow,” Gnik said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what we learn here and how we can take that to Camp Dawson and help it improve.”
In January, the guardsmen will began a two- or three-year pursuit of their dreams.
Some, like Jason Diaz, a 30-year-old Morgantown resident serving at Camp Dawson, have young families and are looking at the Executive MBA degree as an investment in the future. He has a degree in finance from Fairmont State and has thought about opening a business that would focus on outdoor gear but is also considering continuing his career in the military.
“Right now, what I want to do is focus on completing the course, doing the best I can and then, when I’m done, kind of look at what’s in front of me and make a decision from there,” Diaz said. “Maybe the military won’t always be the best answer for me.”
Gnik, 44, foresees a time when she might not meet the physical requirements of the National Guard and wants to expand her options. She oversees a conference center and hotel operation at Camp Dawson and would like to do that in the private sector or possibly continue her current role in a civilian capacity.
When her Guard duties end, “I’m going to be out there in the marketplace and I’ll be an older person in the marketplace,” she said. “I thought, ‘How can I make myself be more competitive?’ Meanwhile, I can use this MBA to my advantage while I’m in the Guard with the things I’m doing.”
For Cochran, earning the degree will be another step in his personal re-invention.
“This time was going to go by anyway, so why not do this?” he said.
As WVU tries to grow its Executive MBA program, it boasts several advantages over other institutions. All MBA programs at WVU have earned international accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the top accreditation a business school can achieve. Also, WVU’s Executive MBA program was ranked among the top on-line programs in a recent U.S. News & World Report survey. WVU’s faculty credentials, which include Ph.D., tenure-track educators, received high marks in the rankings.
“A lot of schools use adjuncts, people from the outside,” Vitullo said. “They can bring a great perspective but it’s a different level of conversation when you have the type of faculty that we do.”
More and more, WVU is addressing the needs of students in the military and student veterans and their families. It was “recently ranked 18th in the Military Times’ “Best for Vets list for 2013 and several major initiatives will be unveiled in the coming year.
WVU’s Mountaineer to Mentor program, which pairs new student veterans coming to WVU with other student vets who have successfully made the transition, was created last semester. It will also pair new student veterans with a faculty or staff member who will serve as a mentor.
In the future, WVU will announce formal guidelines that will allow students who are members of the armed forces to “make up tests and assignments that they may have missed during the semester if the student was called up for military training; and if missing the coursework will not irreversibly impact the students’ ability to master the subject matter in question within the terms of the semester,” according to a draft of the guidelines, which will be incorporated into the undergraduate and graduate student catalogues.
Also, WVU is exploring ways to best integrate all veteran services into an area on campus called the WVU Military and Veterans Service Center. The Center would serve as a one-stop shop for veterans and include classroom space and coordinators to assist with benefits and paperwork. It would also offer academic and psychological counseling and serve as a meeting place for student veterans.
To ease the financial burdens of prospective veteran students, WVU has expanded its Yellow Ribbon Program to include graduate programs in the School of Public Health, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. These colleges have funded 100 percent of a student’s portion of out-of-state tuition for the 2012-13 school year. The School of Nursing has funded 75 percent of out-of-state tuition as part of the program.
The Yellow Ribbon program is an extension of the 9/11 GI Bill that pays all in-state tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for eligible students. WVU has taken part in the Yellow Ribbon program for undergraduate out-of-state students for years, but this is the first year that the University has offered it to graduate students.
The new initiatives are an expansion of previously established programs and policies that have helped WVU gain a national reputation for accommodating veteran students and job-seekers in recent years. More than 800 veterans, military personnel or their dependents are currently studying at WVU, including nearly 100 new student vets who were admitted this spring.
By Dan Shrensky
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CONTACT: Patrick Gregg; WVU College of Business and Economics