To be a great professor, a passion for teaching and helping others is required. But it takes a special kind of passion to pack up your life every two months to teach classes wherever servicemembers and their families need them—from the United Kingdom to Japan and anywhere in between.
Not every professor would follow students overseas and become entrenched in the military community, teaching servicemembers exhausted from long hours on the front line or military spouses juggling classes with work and children while their spouse is deployed. Even fewer could imagine teaching classes downrange in sweltering desert heat, weapons strewn beside students' combat boots, and continuing to teach after an incoming fire alert forces the class into a bunker for hours on end.
Yet that's exactly what 26 new collegiate traveling faculty members at UMUC Europe have signed up for—and they couldn't be more excited. The team consists of an array of extraordinary backgrounds—most hold their PhD, some are veterans or military spouses, many have already taught with UMUC overseas, and most have experience teaching at other state universities or military academies.
Deborah Arangno is spending her first term teaching mathematics downrange in Southwest Asia. She holds a PhD in pure mathematics and has invented several devices, systems, and methodologies. She previously taught mathematics and physics at the U.S. Air Force Academy and worked as a professional mathematician and systems analyst for NORAD Space Command's Space Defense Initiative.
Having previously worked with UMUC Europe for seven years, Arangno taught classes at military bases in Italy, Iceland, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. "I really feel passionate about teaching the troops," she said. "What they do for their country is awe-inspiring. This is the only way I can truly show my gratitude."
In her Math 103 class in Kosovo, she recalled one student, a chief master sergeant only one class away from earning his bachelor's degree. He had made many attempts, but had never been able to pass this class. "He'd been to war but was afraid of Math 103," she said, "but then he took my class and learned math." Once he realized that he successfully passed the class, "he was so proud," she said, "I'll never forget the tears of joy at his own success. That was a huge accomplishment for me."
UMUC Europe's traveling faculty model is in fact one the university has successfully used in the past. In 1949, the first group of seven UMUC faculty members in Europe was called upon to teach classes throughout Germany, wherever servicemembers required classes in their discipline.
The model allows UMUC to meet the needs of students in military communities across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, bringing the classes they need to them, as well as a larger variety of on-site courses and teaching styles.
"This new model will be good because it will circulate these diverse influences, enriching the student experience," said Arangno.
Christian Mahoney is a U.S. Army veteran with three master's degrees and a PhD in comparative literature. He has taught English, speech, and humanities for all three UMUC divisions, including many downrange locations. His first term will be spent at RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall in the United Kingdom.
While teaching a speech class in Kuwait, he recalled one memorable experience: "The class was in danger of being canceled because the students were all from the same unit and their unit was called out to do training in the desert," he said. To ensure the class could continue, Mahoney followed them to their training area in the desert and finished teaching the class there. "It never gets boring," he laughed.
When asked why he enjoys teaching military students, he said, "I appreciate their service to our country and admire the dedication they have to continue their education regardless of where they are." His goal is to help his students adopt a habit of lifelong learning.
A retired veteran of 24 years, Christine Wettlaufer-Adcock earned two master's degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts, and a PhD in learning management all while serving. "I know exactly what our students go through when trying to balance family, education, and a military career. I have been there."
Having worked as a military police officer, drill sergeant, recruiter, and public affairs officer in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, and later a patrol commander in the Coast Guard, teaching the military is a natural passion for Wettlaufer-Adcock. "Military people are my people. I've been a part of the military in some form or another since I was 18 years old," she said. Her first assignment is in Naples, Italy, where she will teach writing courses.
Emine Houston also finds the experience of teaching in military communities rewarding. "I would not do any other job. Bettering their lives, that's real education. It's the most important part."
A military spouse of 25 years with a PhD in Mathematics, Houston has lived on four different continents, but is not ready for the adventure to be over just yet. "My husband was in the Army, and I've spent my life following him. Now he'll be following me—he's going to be my dependent," she said with a smile. She will spend her first few months teaching in Ansbach and Illesheim, Germany.
The model requires faculty members to live a nomadic life and be prepared to uproot every two months. Before the schedule is made for the next term, they are unsure which of the 50 military communities they'll be heading to next. The job requires an adventurous spirit, made for those who thrive in an unpredictable lifestyle lived out of a suitcase—a far cry from nine to five.
Chizoba Udeorji is excited for the challenge and adventure. She previously taught at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn and holds a master's degree in communications and culture. Udeorji teaches communications studies, including intercultural communications, and kicks off her experience in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Hailing from a Nigerian immigrant family, she looks forward to working with the unique diversity found in military communities. "Every day will be a learning experience," she said, "there's nothing else like the military community."
While some are taking family with them, many have left behind family members in the United States. Foregoing academic and research opportunities stateside and moving away from their homes of many years, the team considers this a meaningful way to give back to a student population that has given so much to their country.
"We could be home doing research, but we are making sacrifices because you are. We are doing this to thank you for your service," said Arangno. "We ask only that you commit yourself to your own future."