Sometimes when Barbara Kessler drives to her job for the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) near the east coast of central Florida, she sees a rocket overhead. It is a reminder—in case she needed it—that her work intertwines with the Space Force, the youngest branch of the U.S. military.
In January, UMGC will begin offering in-person classes at Patrick Space Force Base, marking the university’s first contract to teach at a Space Force installation. Kessler is the university’s advanced military education coordinator for the base. In the run-up to the opening of classrooms, she drives to the base monthly to handle inquiries from servicemembers interested in enrolling at UMGC.
“This is our first foray into serving the Space Force, and we will offer the educational opportunities that the Space Force wants to provide,” said Kelly Wilmeth, UMGC’s vice president for Stateside Military Operations. “With the location at Patrick Space Force Base, we’re just down the road from Cape Canaveral and close to other military installations where many UMGC students are stationed.”
Patrick Space Force Base, formerly Patrick Air Force Base, sits between Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach in Brevard County, making it convenient for servicemembers and veterans in Orlando and nearby communities. Otherwise, the closest base classrooms are a two-hour drive north at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport.
Wilmeth noted that veterans, in particular, need in-person or hybrid courses to maximize their VA education and housing benefits. Kessler can also advise servicemembers who started UMGC classes at other stateside duty stations or overseas and now want to continue their studies—in person, online, or through hybrid courses that combine both.
Earlier this year, UMGC signed a second Space Force contract—with Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado. The Space Force contracts continue the university’s ongoing expansion.
“We’re always looking for new locations where we can plant the UMGC flag,” said Wilmeth. “It is part of our strategy to meet students where they are.”
UMGC staff are currently being hired at Schriever Space Force Base, but no timeframe has been set for classes. At both Space Force bases, UMGC will begin by offering mostly undergraduate programs that meet general education requirements, including management studies, business administration, cybersecurity, criminal justice, psychology, accounting and history.
The Space Force was established in December 2019, with its first members transitioning over from the Air Force. In 2020, the Space Force held a virtual mass swearing-in ceremony for 2,400 new members around the world. Three months later, seven servicemembers directly enlisted in the Space Force.
Kessler said the UMGC office at Patrick Space Force Base has fielded walk-in inquiries from servicemembers who are new to UMGC programs, current students continuing their education, and students who took a break and now want to resume work toward their degrees. In addition to providing information about in-person courses that will launch in January, the UMGC office on the base has received inquiries about online classes. Kessler said 42 people had enrolled through the Patrick Space Force education center office for online degree programs as of early September.
She noted that the Space Force is also interested in having UMGC organize events at the base.
“This is no different than any other UMGC site. We will talk to students about what they have left toward their degree, the classes we’re planning to offer,” Kessler said. “We’ll make sure they can finish their associate degree or move on to other degrees if they want to.”
Kessler has had experience with Army and Air Force educational programs. But she noted that the Space Force assignment offers an additional perk.
“We have the ability to go to rocket launches. And we’re also able to go over to the Cape Canaveral Station for events,” she said. “That is very cool.”
Photo: U.S. Space Force Senior Airman Thomas Sjoberg