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Unit Classes Becoming More Popular for Stateside Servicemembers

Liz Connolly-Bauman
By Liz Connolly-Bauman

Thanks to unique scheduling and a creative use of facilities by the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), more active-duty servicemembers have the opportunity to take in-person unit classes at locations on military installations in Virginia.

UMGC works directly with departments, or units, as they are referred to on military bases, to schedule classes, locations and times. One such class is being offered at a fire station on Langley Air Force Base. The room where classes are held has vivid paintings depicting fires, spacious tables that encourage group collaboration, and a large projector screen for presentations.

“We found that when servicemembers leave their duty, it’s really hard to get them back on base,” said Christina Compton, UMGC adjunct instructor and coordinator of non-traditional programs. “Being able to offer a daytime course directly on the base, we’re getting a lot of active-duty servicemembers who, although they are not required to take a course with an in-person component, are choosing this option.”

Students attending a unit class at a fire station on Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia.

In-person unit classes are already offered at various overseas military installations. The Langley base in Hampton, Virginia, has adopted this educational option with the help of UMGC.

“It is a different way for UMGC to make taking classes more flexible for our military students,” said Stacey Tate, UMGC director of out of state operations East for stateside military operations. “We hope to continue to offer more unit classes at Langley, as well as other bases across the U.S.” 

Under a joint partnership with the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), Air Force members can receive a CCAF associate degree when they complete general education requirements through UMGC’s General Education Mobile (GEM) program. If they wish, servicemembers may then directly transfer credits earned through GEM toward a UMGC bachelor’s degree.

The CCAF associate degree requires that students take five general education courses that are not part of their Air Force training. With Langley providing live classes at the fire department classroom, three of the required GEM classes are held in person: math, writing and oral communication. The other two classes are behavioral science and arts/humanities.

On a cold winter day, Alexis Sutherland presented a speech in the fire department classroom. When she finished, there was feedback from other students in this Speech 100 Oral Communication course.

“I love that UMGC and CCAF are so accommodating and give us opportunities to do school on our lunch break,” said Frances Payton-Champ, an active-duty Air Force member taking the eight-week speech class. “I’m a very nervous person, so I'm loving learning techniques and ways to get my anxiety down when I’m in front of people saying speeches.”

The Speech 100 Oral Communication course focuses on oral communication, including small-group communication and public speaking. Students prepare speeches, provide feedback to others, and participate in group activities. The students can fulfill some class requirements online if necessary but the in-person component of Speech 100 and the convenience of a classroom right at the Air Force base is what draws course enrollment.

“My favorite part about this class is I actually get to see the people. I feel like the teacher cares more when I'm looking at her when I ask a question, because like I said, I like to ask questions,” said Sutherland. “I like to talk to my peers and get other opinions.”

Sutherland intends to use her associate degree as a springboard to a UMGC bachelor’s degree in business administration. 

Compton, who teaches the Speech 100 course, said students have three speeches they must prepare: an elevator pitch, informative briefing, and persuasive speech.

“Students actually take the same topic from the informative briefing and turn that into the persuasive speech. During this same process, they work on their listening and investigative skills,” Compton explained.

Payton-Champ said she spent some time figuring out what she would focus on for her public speaking assignments.

“For my elevator pitch, I did talk about DNA and how I found my biological father last year at the age of 32,” she said. “I wanted to kind of stay on that line with all my speeches and thought, ‘How I can make this informative?’

“I might do my research on ancestry and tie that into my persuasive speech,” she added.

Compton noted that it is recommended that students attend classes in person and present their projects. But if a conflict arises, a student can record the assignment and post online. The third speech in the course must, however, be given in front of a live audience of two people.

“The flexibility and convenience of unit classes help our military students’ progress with their educational goals,” Tate said.