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Online Executive MBA program celebrates its first cohort of Camp Dawson graduates

B&E’s December commencement will include nine Camp Dawson graduates in the online Executive MBA program at West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics,

The nationally ranked Executive MBA program will celebrate a milestone at its upcoming December 2015 Commencement ceremony, as the program will graduate a large group of military personnel from Camp Dawson, West Virginia Army National Guard. 

B&E’s December commencement will include nine Camp Dawson graduates in the online Executive MBA program at West Virginia's College of Business and Economics, a program widely known as one of the Best Online Program for Veterans by the U.S. News & World Report

“As an officer in the Army National Guard, you are always searching for ways to make yourself competitive among your peers. Higher education is one of those areas that senior leaders look at when comparing young officers for future positions,” said Major Jason Diaz, operations officer at Camp Dawson. “I didn’t want to get just any master’s degree; I wanted something that would differentiate me from my peers, as well as something that could give me some options outside of the military. WVU offered that in the EMBA. It was a highly-ranked program nationally, and gave me the flexibility I needed as a soldier to be able to meet both commitments.”

Dr. Elizabeth Vitullo, assistant dean of Graduate Programs, said the program has always had military personnel – veterans, activity military, National Guard – but not in the unified way where the program was tailored specifically to them, as in this case with the group of nine Camp Dawson students in the program together. 

“We were contacted a few years back by a military base asking if we would ever consider doing this type of program, and that was the catalyst for it,” Vitullo said. “In working with key individuals, we put together something that would meet their needs — from their drilling responsibilities to how the educational benefits were dispersed — that would allow them to go through the program as a unit, since that was very important to them.

“The students from Camp Dawson have been fantastic. The faculty and staff have commented on what an asset this group has been to the program and the perspective that they bring, especially because of the online nature of the program where students learn just as much from each other as they do from the professor. This group brought incredible leadership training and dedication to each course in addition to their expertise and service to their country.”

Vitullo said that while there are many reasons for soldiers to further their education, including the fact that they will be more marketable should they choose to go on to other careers from the military, many of them require a master’s degree to achieve a certain rank.

“Obtaining an Executive MBA degree helps with their professional development and advancement, and it provides a business skill set to what they’re doing,” she said. “Whether they work in operations, logistics or other various specialties, they can apply graduate-level training in all the functional areas of business, and will have another layer of understanding to help them execute.

“Some of these students are career military, and we thank them for their service and their dedication to the country in that way. On the other hand, many of them will go on to other careers upon retirement, and can use their master’s degree as a platform to launch into a number of different industries. The military training and experience combined with an MBA is really a winning combination.”

The group companionship, and willingness to succeed together as a team, was something felt by the majority of the Camp Dawson EMBA students. 

“(The program) was challenging… but I wouldn’t trade the education or the experience I’ve gained in the last three years for anything. Perhaps more importantly, the bond that I’ve formed with my teammates will last a lifetime, and without going through the program, I would never have had this,” Sergeant First Class Mike Cochran said. “This is the most priceless part for me.”

For some National Guard members, completing the EMBA program was something they had considered over a long period of time before committing to it. Sergeant First Class Kerry Gnik said she dreamed of having a degree from WVU, but was very hesitant at first because of her duties both at Camp Dawson and at home.

“As a guardsman, a wife and a mother of two young children, I was concerned that I would be spending too much time away from all that I hold dear. It was then that Dr. Vitullo told me she got her doctorate while pregnant,” Gnik said. “She was truly a huge inspiration for me participating in this program. Like me, she’s a woman with a family and a challenging, time-consuming profession, and she returned to school. It made me feel like I could do it, too.”

“I was approached three different times from unrelated sources about doing the program, and each time I turned it away, not feeling like it was something I needed at the time. I do believe, however, that when a concept or a thing keeps coming to you, then perhaps it’s something to which you should pay attention,” Cochran said. “When I listened to Dr. Vitullo’s passionate presentation, I had an internal feeling that it was something I had to do and that it was tied to a greater personal purpose.”

Vitullo said the students will participate in the December 18 pinning ceremony prior to the December Commencement event.

The soon-to-be graduates talked about why other soldiers should consider the EMBA program.

“The program is incredibly eye-opening to the inner workings of business. Whether one is making a career of the military or going to venture out into the world of business, the EMBA program at WVU is going to supply you with the education you need to be successful,” Gnik said. “I felt that the support system of the staff and the knowledge of the professors was incredible and I had a great experience over the last few years.”

Diaz said he invested his time into the program because of the quality and the national rankings that come with the degree he’s about to receive. 
“Compared to other programs that are targeting military personnel, WVU’s is respected nationally, which makes you more marketable and differentiates you from your peers,” Diaz said. “WVU’s program is flexible; when working at Camp Dawson, there is a lot demanded of you in order for our organization to succeed. WVU worked with us to allow us to remain committed to our jobs while still being successful in our classes, and the staff has been more than supportive and has cheered for us to do well along the way.”