Sponsor Spotlight: Thomas Edison State University
Military training gives a different perspective on the learning process, and for many transitioning veterans, returning to school after service can pose a unique challenge. Thomas Edison State University recognizes this and has continued to support veteran education for the past 2 decades. Through their own curriculum and support of programs like Bunker Brews and mentorship in Bunker Labs PHL’s educational cohorts, TESU furthers the mission of providing accessible, relevant educational opportunities for people transitioning from military service into civilian life.
We spoke with Dr. Dennis Devery, 30-year U.S. Army veteran, former Cobra helicopter pilot, and current VP for Enrollment Management at Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, NJ. Dennis will be on our Innovation in Education speaker panel at January Bunker Brews on January 16.
Here’s what he had to say about how TESU is providing new educational opportunities for veterans.
BL: How does Thomas Edison State University support the veteran community?
DD: Thomas Edison has been involved with the veteran community for at least two decades. We realized that people were getting a lot of training and college-equivalent learning in the military but weren't getting credit for it.
So, as part of our mission, TESU put together appraisals of the learning that was taking place on the military bases and set up a Prior Learning Assessment system to evaluate it for college-level credit. Evaluations are based on an analysis of the location and subject matter of the training, and how that mapped to typical collegiate coursework.
For instance, I was a helicopter pilot in the military, but I couldn't come out and use my helicopter training in the civilian world because you need an FAA license. Helicopter pilots learn all these great things like meteorology and different technical skills, but they don't get credit for it on the collegiate level unless somebody assesses that learning.
Thomas Edison State University was a pioneer in that area of applying military training and certifications to degree programs for students. The graduation timeline for these students was significantly shortened because they didn’t have to sit in a classroom and relearn the subjects that they learned while in the military.
TESU also supports the veteran community by hiring veterans. People like myself: I'm a veteran, I did 30 years in the Army and served in lots of different places. Thomas Edison asked me to come be part of the organization when I was retiring from the Army. There's a real belief in both supporting the students during their military career and when they're veterans.
BL: What’s the motivation behind TESU’s support of the veteran community?
DD: Veterans often struggle with a feeling of unpreparedness as they transition from the military to civilian culture. At Thomas Edison, one of our biggest messages to veterans is that most of the people who are coming out of the military have exceptional skills and have learned things that are absolutely valuable as a civilian outside of the military. Our goal as an educational institution is to help them apply their training to a different field and show them that there are opportunities to be just as successful in the civilian world as they were in the military.
We realize that the veterans in the military are unique in their educational needs and where they are in life, much different than typical 18 to 21-year-old students. Thomas Edison is specifically geared toward adult-level learning, for people who have had to stop college for whatever reason or went into military service initially and are now returning to the classroom. There's a different way of educating adults than with 18 to 21-year-olds.
Because of that, TESU’s degree programs are a perfect fit for military and veterans. We understand that these folks bring experiences to the classroom that we should recognize and appreciate and allow them to benefit from their prior learning. We have a whole division, The Office of Military and Veterans' Education, that specifically acknowledges that veterans and military students are a little bit different and can bring exceptional things to the process of higher education.
BL: How did Thomas Edison initially become involved with Bunker Labs?
DD: A mutual friend from the military saw an opportunity for synergy between TESU’s mission and what Bunker Labs was doing for veterans, so he connected me with Joe Witte, who was the Executive Director of Bunker Labs Philadelphia. Thomas Edison is always looking for ways of innovating in the education space and we saw that Bunker Labs had taken this unique approach to transitioning veterans into entrepreneurial roles. It’s a completely different way of looking at education for veterans.
Joe and I met and knew this was definitely the kind of place that Thomas Edison State University wants to support. We’ve been involved with Bunker through providing mentorship within their educational cohort programs, educational opportunities for people enrolled in the programs, or just telling them that there are opportunities for veterans to get advanced degrees within the educational field which will help as they build credentials and grow their businesses.
BL: As a professional within the field of higher education, have you seen any recent changes involving entrepreneurship as part of the educational track?
DD: I think Bunker Labs is pioneering this model of taking subject matter experts from various fields of business and pairing them with veterans pursuing a career in entrepreneurship. In the long-term, TESU is looking to partner with Bunker Labs even further to connect entrepreneurial training with an educational track. We have an MBA program that allows students to study different areas of business that are so valuable to people who are starting businesses. We’re hoping to provide opportunities for people in the Bunker Labs community to supplement their face-to-face education with development of credentials in higher education.
Dr. Devery will be a keynote speaker at January Bunker Brews: Innovation in Education. To hear more about how universities like TESU are changing the field of education, register for free on Eventbrite.