*This article is part of In Public Safety’s September focus on career transitions*
By Beth Subero, faculty member, Intelligence Studies at American Military University
When I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force some 25 years ago, I had no intention of serving beyond four years. I already had a year of college under my belt and knew the Air Force would help me complete my bachelor’s degree. So much for plans. Here I am, a retired Air Force Intelligence Officer after 21 years of military service and an instructor at APUS—and I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Air Force did help me get that bachelor’s degree, but it didn’t stop there. In addition to two graduate degrees, the Air Force gave me the opportunity to teach at one of the nation’s premier higher learning institutions, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA).
More than anything, though, the military instilled in me the desire to be a lifelong learner. From my days as an airman at Yokota Air Base in Japan where I was always hanging out at the education center to my current free time where I am seeking out just the right doctoral program, my desire for learning has never waned. I largely thank the military for both rewarding academic achievement and providing educational opportunities.
If I learned one thing all those years ago, it is that opportunities are waiting around every corner. If you are currently serving in the military and do not think opportunity awaits you, I urge you to think again. From scholarships and college tuition benefits to regulations that allow you time off to complete graduate exams, the military wants you to learn, and it also wants some of you to teach.
If you’re someone who may someday want to make the transition from the military to a profession in higher education, here are a few tips that might help you in your journey.
Never Stop Learning
Take every class you can. If the military gives you the opportunity to go to school on its dime, then go. If you think you are too busy now, you will be busier later, I assure you.
If you are offered a class on how to be a better wrench turner, take the class. If you are offered a class on counterterrorism and force protection, go. Some of these classes will be great, some not so great. Thankfully, though, in addition to learning the subject matter, you will learn a little bit about how to teach, and even sometimes, how not to.
To become a teacher requires that you continue your education as well. You will need a minimum of a master’s degree to teach at the collegiate level. Odds are, if you don’t like learning, you probably won’t like teaching.
Find Ways to Teach
I was very fortunate; I spent three years teaching undergraduates at USAFA as a young captain. The military has enlisted positions at the service academies and what better place to learn about higher education than at actual institutions of higher education?
I realize that USAFA, West Point, and Annapolis have limited positions, but teaching positions don’t stop there. If you are an Air Force Intelligence Analyst, the school at Goodfellow Air Force Base should be number one on your dream sheet. Are you an Army analyst? The same goes for Ft. Huachuca.
At the end of a three-year tour at one of these facilities, you will exit as an expert in your field, which unlike many military specialties, does translate directly to the civilian world. You will presumably enter any teaching position with experience in your field and now you will also have the experience of teaching that trade.
Connect with Others in Your Field
Social media makes it easier than ever to connect to schools and educators, but don’t forget about traditional routes. Start by subscribing to email lists and journals associated with your area of interest. Academic and professional journals keep you current not only in terms of subject matter, but they also keep you up-to-date on job openings or new degree programs.
Journals and academic affiliations can get expensive, but if you’re an APUS student, the library offers you free access to almost all of the professional journals. If there’s one you are interested in, but not available, ask a librarian to add it. Maybe you will get lucky.
Speaking of luck, I know I have had my fare share of good fortune over the years, but good luck often comes to those who are in the right place at the right time. Had I not been the airman who was always spending my free time in Yokota’s education center, I don’t know that I would have ever earned the Air Force ROTC scholarship that put me on the path to where I am today.
Good luck in your journey. I need to get back to finding my Ph.D. program—I have more learning to do.
About the Author: Beth Subero is an instructor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. She possesses an MA in History from the University of Utah and an MS in Strategic Intelligence from National Intelligence University. Beth served in the Air Force for 21 years as an intelligence officer and taught history at the United States Air Force Academy. She has also worked as a senior cybersecurity consultant supporting cybersecurity training and education efforts across the federal government. She currently lives and works in Doha, Qatar.