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Penn State Seeks to Help Faculty Better Understand Military Students

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – A Penn State online student who is a crew chief in the Air Force was given an hour to report for a mission and was not able to finish an online quiz.

Another student serving in the Navy was stationed out at sea, with limited Internet bandwidth to access streaming videos for a class.

Other students have gotten change-of-assignment orders that required them to pack up their homes and families and move to a new base in the middle of a semester.

Such situations can delay or even stop active-duty, National Guard or reserve military students from progressing through their degree programs. In an effort to help faculty better understand the challenges military students face, the university has created an online professional development course, “Serving Those Who Serve,” about teaching military students.

“We’re taking Penn State faculty on a mission to learn more about military students,” says Drew Tatusko, assistant director of Penn State World Campus Faculty Development and manager of the course. “When a student has been deployed, there is no Internet access inside the tank. The student won’t be able to finish the term paper by the deadline or communicate with the professor at all. We want to make sure our university’s faculty understand what students face when they’re also serving our country.”

The course comes as Penn State World Campus, the university’s online campus, continues to see an increase in military and veteran student enrollments. Over the past four years, the number of military and veteran students has increased more than 58 percent to almost 3,000.

The self-paced course presents an overview of military life, Penn State policies and ways to handle situations unique to military students. It encourages faculty to adopt military student-friendly practices in their classes.

Course designer Kristin Bittner organized the course as a military mission, and the various chapters are called briefing stations. She developed the content based on her experiences in higher education and as an officer in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

“It’s such a needed course for faculty awareness,” she says. “I thought about the most common situations my military members face as students. I tried to pick those that would be most applicable to staff and faculty.”

Faculty also hear from military students through videos in the course. Brian Dougherty, the Air Force crew chief, talks about being called for a mission and missing a quiz.

“I get a phone call, and they say, ‘You have 30 minutes to an hour to show up,’ ” he says in the video. “You have to be shaved, in uniform, and sometimes they don’t even tell you where you’re going.”

So far, more than 100 faculty and staff at the university have registered for the course, and nearly two dozen have earned the certificate of completion.

Mathematics instructor Joan Smeltzer completed the course in the summer, and soon after, two students in one of her online courses said they were being deployed. She extended assignment deadlines to accommodate them.

“In past semesters, if I had received similar emails from active military students, I would not have completely understood what they were going through,” she says. “The course encouraged me to be as supportive as possible of their circumstance.”

Penn State faculty and staff can register for the course on the World Campus Faculty Development website.

For information about military student services and resources, visit the World Campus website.