Writer: Mark Cramer
Members of America’s armed forces often face a difficult task in achieving their higher education goals, due to frequent transfer and deployments. New Mexico State University has worked to help these members of the military, as well as veterans, complete classwork and earn degrees via distance learning opportunities. The College of Engineering’s Distance Education program is one example of this military outreach.
The college offers an online Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering, and it’s been a big hit with members of the military.
The MSIE program is one of the larger graduate programs in the College of Engineering, with about 100 master’s and 20 doctoral students, led by six faculty members. Edward Pines, industrial engineering department head, noted that almost all of the students in the program took at least one of the distance learning classes.
“The Ph.D. program in industrial engineering has the right blend of courses and research to prepare individuals for the civilian or military world,” said Lt. Col. David Hudak, director of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Analysis Center (TRAC), in Monterey, Calif. “While I was able to accomplish most of my research on a military problem, defining and applying this same technique to a civilian problem was very gratifying.”
Courses are delivered via a mixture of downloadable Web files, CDs, videotape and some live classes, when appropriate. The distance education classes are frequently piggybacked with on-campus offerings. All graduate distance education students come to Las Cruces after completing the required coursework to take a final oral master’s examination.
“We have a really large distance group,” Pines said. “Many of our distance students are either from large international businesses or the military. Essentially we grew as a program simply by providing increased access to our classes.”
Traditional graduate programs require students to come to the university campus and engage with the professor and fellow students in a classroom environment. Pines said that the MSIE program provides access to non-traditional students that are unable to make regular trips to campus, such as professionals with full-time jobs.
“A lot of people are transitioning into other careers now, for example from engineering to project management, and they need this degree to compete,” Pines said. “And we are very popular with members of our armed forces, as we deliver the class to them and we can pretty much follow them around the world if they get transferred. At one point we were shipping class DVDs to Kuwait for a student. With Internet-based classes, we can be everywhere the students have Internet access.”
The market model for the online MSIE program is to provide access to engineers and other professionals in technical trades. A significant number of students are members of the military stationed at White Sands Missile Range, about 65 miles from NMSU’s Las Cruces campus. There also are students stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo, N.M., and Kirtland Air Force Base, more than 200 miles away in Albuquerque.
“Usually our Air Force students are acquisitions and project management people, while we get Army students engaged in operations research and systems analysis,” Pines explained. “We also get people who work for Sandia or Los Alamos national labs, who are interested in engineering management.”
“Earning an advanced degree is a tremendous milestone in an officer’s career. Through the industrial engineering program at NMSU, I’ve learned principles and concepts directly applicable to my role in the Department of Defense’s acquisition and engineering programs,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Nicholas Yeung, a project engineer. “The faculty and staff at NMSU have been and continue to be incredibly supportive in my postgraduate goals and endeavors.”
Not only is NMSU’s master’s in industrial engineering online program convenient, but the tuition is competitive as well when compared to other online programs. The constantly evolving program offers each student access to a faculty advisor, who helps the student create an individual coursework plan and schedule. That way all required classes can be fit in around a student’s full-time job or military deployments or transfers.
According to Army Lt. Col. Christopher Holmes, the officers and families of the Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center at White Sands Missile Range are grateful for NMSU’s cooperation in working with members of the Army on undergraduate and graduate studies programs.
“These programs are a wonderful opportunity for soldiers to complete necessary coursework that would otherwise be impossible, given work schedules and deployments,” Holmes said. “The flexibility of the university, particularly in the area of distance learning, has allowed 16 officers of TRAC-WSMR to participate in or complete master’s level programs in the last two years – many while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in defense of the nation. Programs such as those offered by NMSU provide an important avenue for soldiers to continue their education while fulfilling their military obligations.”
The program has been so successful that the College of Engineering also has also begun offering a graduate certificate in systems engineering and a master’s in electrical engineering online.
For more information on these programs, visit http://de.nmsu.edu/.