MLS Program Helps Military Students Get Ahead in Rank, Education

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Students who serve in the military have been part of UTEP’s Master of Leadership Studies program since its inception. But each academic year, a wider variety of soldiers from all over the world are coming to UTEP for the respected program.

Faculty involved with the rigorous scholastic program recognize that many who are attracted to it also have demanding professional and personal lives. That’s why classes are offered in-person and online or are a mix of the two.Leadership Studies students received their master's hoods during a May 2013 ceremony. Photo courtesy of Stephen Telless.Leadership Studies students received their master's hoods during a May 2013 ceremony. Photo courtesy of Stephen Telless.

Those who are enrolled in the U.S. Army’s Captain’s or Sergeants Major Academy at Ft. Bliss — which regularly enrolls non-U.S. military service members – can complete the MLS program in less than a year of full-time study. UTEP professors often conduct classes on post where it is more convenient for their students.

“Our program enables students to be better leaders in present and future positions,” said Associate Provost and Professor Sandra R. Hurley, Ph.D. “It opens opportunities for advancement and lifelong learning by providing them with research, analytical thinking, and oral and written communication skills, as well as a thorough grounding in both the theoretical and practical aspects of leadership.”

One requirement of the program is a senior case study focused on a significant contemporary or historical ethical issue. The project requires that students draw upon all components of the program to address the issue at hand. 

“Students often comment that this independent research project pushes their thinking and writing to levels they didn’t expect, and the resulting case studies can be useful in present and future leadership positions,” said Hurley, who taught students from the Army, Marines, and Coast Guard over the past academic year.

International students have also been enrolled in the MLS program since it began, representing countries including Australia, Bahrain, Jordan, Korea, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Taiwan. Those international students who are stationed at Ft. Bliss pay the in-state tuition rate, which is a big boost along with the opportunity to receive a degree from a U.S. institution.

Yi Jyun Chen, a noncommissioned officer in the Taiwanese Army, completed the MLS program in May 2013 and graduated from the Army’s Sergeants Major Academy in June. She is one of several international students who have recently come to El Paso for the additional education and training available at Ft. Bliss. Chen, along with colleagues in U.S. military services, was able to complete the necessary requirements for promotion in rank simultaneously with her master’s degree from UTEP in about a year. 

“Taiwan only gave me one year in El Paso, so I thought, ‘What can I do to learn more and more and bring back to Taiwan?’” Chen asked. “UTEP’s Leadership Studies program let me experience pedagogy interactively. My kind professors taught by precept and example with patience and great passion, which is just what I need to be as a Sergeant Major. I wasn't born with leadership skills, but I was molded to be a well-prepared leader with the MLS program. Now it is time to distribute all the knowledge in my head to everybody who cannot be in the UTEP MLS program personally.”

Genc Metaj, the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the Kosovo Army, was also drawn to UTEP and Ft. Bliss to further his education and military training.

“As an international student, UTEP was a new experience,” Metaj said. “Overall, the way of teaching and interaction of students in the classroom was a new method that I benefitted from. I liked the way that the program offered us the opportunity to present ourselves and also gave us the opportunity to compare what was going on in the U.S. with our leadership dilemmas (in Kosovo).”

UTEP has long served military service members and their families due to its proximity to Ft. Bliss, and the MLS program is just one effort toward strengthening that relationship.

“We are keenly aware of the challenges and the needs the unique student population bring to us,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio during the dedication of the new Military Student Success Center in April, another new initiative directed toward ensuring that military students can further their educational goals as effectively as possible.

Vice Provost Michael R. Smith, Ph.D., said, “By virtue of their service and sacrifice, often through multiple deployments, our military students bring an invaluable perspective to the classroom, to their fellow students and to the fabric of campus life.”

Sergeants Major Academy students are given time to take courses at UTEP or online universities in order to further their education. Stephen Telless, MLS program adviser, said students attending the academy have already been selected for promotion to the highest enlisted grade open to them, so completing their master’s degree has more bearing on what they might decide to do after completing their military service.

“The majority of these students want to become better leaders and are also looking to their careers beyond the military,” Telless said.

David Wilson, an instructor with the academy, had begun two previous M.B.A. programs and an M.A. in organizational leadership at other schools when he was assigned to Ft. Bliss with the U.S. Army. His story exemplifies the way that UTEP has worked with Ft. Bliss to reach out to students from all backgrounds to help them complete the next step in their education, no matter where they may be headed in life.

“Since my undergraduate degree was in organizational leadership and my occupation of teaching leadership at the pinnacle of enlisted soldiers' education, I felt the Leadership Studies could only enhance my influence on my students,” Wilson said. “Even more, I found the program better prepared me for future leadership positions in the civilian sector and possibly teaching at a community college if the opportunity arose.”

Sgt. Maj. Victor Moreno came to UTEP in August 2012 to attend the Sergeants Major Academy. He arrived with only an associate degree, but was determined to go as far as he could while he was enrolled at the academy. He obtained his bachelor’s through online courses in December 2012, and with the guidance and encouragement of UTEP’s MLS professors, accomplished the coursework required to graduate with his master’s degree in May 2013.

The first in his family to attain advanced schooling, Moreno will be starting a Ph.D. program at UT-San Antonio in the fall.

“Dr. Hurley and Dr. [Frank G.] Pérez are awesome,” he said. “With their help, I was able to achieve what I never thought possible.”