The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy Fellowship Program logged on with the Pennsylvania State University's (Penn State) World Campus August 20 when the first 20 sergeants major selected for the program received their orientation briefings from their faculty advisor Dr. William Diehl, Ph. D., coordinator of Online Graduate Programs in the Adult Education Program and Assistant Professor at the university.
"I want to congratulate all of you on being selected for being fellows in this program," Diehl said. "I will learn more about you in the next few days, but I am really impressed with your background. It is really a privilege to be here and work with you."
With his introduction complete, Diehl spent two days with the fellows giving them an understanding of the Penn State community, online learning, resources available as well as the technology they will use, an overview of the program and main courses, hands-on library and research skills, and a question and answer period at the end.
Eluding to the fact that the sergeants major will be full-time students focusing on completing 33 semester hours of study in one year, Diehl said they were in a unique and good situation.
"Most of the Masters students are working at a professional job 40 hours a week and then they are coming to take one or two classes to get through the program. So it is a much longer process for them," he said. "You have your own challenges because you have four classes going in and you are going to have to juggle that."
Another challenge Diehl said the students have is the fact that some of the students haven't been in school for a while and that there are all kinds of issues with distance learning, but there is a large support system for them to use including a whole team of military support specialists.
For Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, seeing one of his major goals as the commandant of USASMA come to fruition and having the sergeants major on board to begin the first iteration, makes it all the more meaningful.
"When we picked the 20 fellows, I could see that their records were impressive, but now after having met and talked with them I am impressed with the level of talent we got and wanted to be a part of this. My initial impression is I think we made the right selection for this program," Defreese said. "I am excited that this is finally starting. This is a big win for the NCO Corps and for our Army."
The establishment of the Fellowship Program, Defreese said, also means the leaders of the Army believe NCO education is important and that NCOs can be critical thinkers and help solve problems.
"I think it says a lot about our NCO Corps, but it is really because of what the officers think about us," he said. "They think that we are worthy of this kind of program and they actually believe that we are an important part, and an important asset to this Army and we bring something to the table."
Selected as one of the fellows in this inaugural class, Sgt. Maj. Scott Cates, who has spent the last year as an instructor in the Sergeants Major Course, said it is a privilege to be selected and believes the program to be a great advancement for the NCO Corps and the Sergeants Major Academy.
"I personally signed up for this because I look at things as an opportunity," Cates said. "This is an opportunity to make the NCO Corps look better and in the future I think that this will help me not only do a better job while I am in the Army as an instructor at USASMA, but it is something that I can take with me when I exit the military."
Fellow classmate Sgt. Maj. Christopher Roche whose last assignment was at Fort Drum, New York, said he signed up primarily to give back to the Army and to help NCOs be better leaders. Being a student full-time, however, has him wondering how it will go.
"Honestly I don't know what we are going to do for a whole year. This is the first time in my military career where we haven't had to do school and work," Roche said. "So a lot of us are looking at it as a higher level education that will have a lot more reading, a lot more writing, but we are forgetting the fact that we are not going to have a 9 to 5 job, or actually a 6 to 6 job, which most of us did before getting here."
Roche added that once he completes the fellowship program, he hopes to use his education to not only improve the curriculum of the Sergeants Major Course, but to help him to be an educator in the field when he leaves the academy.
"After (teaching on) the platform it is actually going to help most of us who are going to go back out into the field to do NCO professional development, leader professional development, officer professional development and help instigate the NCO Corps more into the day-to-day operation as a resource rather than just a standard bearer," Roche said. "I think this is a great opportunity and we should have done this many, many years ago. Our sergeants major are well-deserved of this honor and I am just happy to be part of it."
Diehl echoed his student's comments.
"My path was not a military path, but I have always respected the role that the people in the military play," he said. "I feel a huge responsibility to make this program successful and to make everybody here successful and because of that I feel that this is an opportunity for me to serve my country too. I think it is laying a solid foundation for courses that will be taught in this academy and I think you are going to come out with exceptional teachers and leaders."
The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy Fellowship is the Army's premier noncommissioned officer degree and instructor certification program aimed at sergeants major who have potential and a strong desire to be an educator for our future sergeants major. Selected candidates pursue a Master of Arts Degree in adult education through Penn State. The program was approved by the Chief of Staff of the Army on December 11, 2014.
The purpose of program is two-fold. First, fellows are personal representatives, and even ambassadors, for the Chief of Staff and the Sergeant Major of the Army. In this role, Fellows provide the civilian community with a sense of what the Army is doing and how they serve as personal envoys for senior leaders. Secondly, the fellowship program is the Army's response to the Department of Defense instructions that require each service to have these outreach programs.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense guidance recognizes that fellowships provide "Unique Opportunities" for professional development that is not available with our own Professional Military Education Systems and therefore, the NCO program at Penn State will bring a distinctive opportunity.
For more information on the program, contact Sgt. Maj. Kristy A. Swofford, director, USASMA Fellowship Program at (915)744-8827 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.