Getting Your Degree While Serving

Soldier studies in a classroom

I'd like to introduce a Service member who used education to level the playing field for her future. Kimberly McClain, Ph.D., is a major in the United States Air Force Reserves and serves as an adjunct professor of international business for Northcentral University. She currently teaches doctoral courses in international business, global marketing environment, cultural environment of global business and international business strategic management. While McClain is well-accomplished in her own right, she also is currently assigned to the Pentagon as Chief of Operations, Policy Integration Division, Headquarters Air Force Studies and Analyses, Assessments and Lessons Learned.

McClain began her career as an enlisted Service member, went to OTS, became an officer and attended flight school. She did all of this as a single mother. She has flown more than 1,600 hours in E-3 AWACS aircraft, and has served as a pilot for the Commander in Chief. She went back to school to get a degree, and you can too! She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Texas, a master's degree in human relations and international business from Amberton University, and a doctorate of philosophy in international business from Northcentral University.

In a candid interview, McClain shared insights regarding her path to educational success.

What has been your "path of service” in the military?

My path in the military has been non-traditional. I joined the military in 1991 after failing miserably at college the first three times. I loved school, but only when it was sunny. The result after my first few semesters was a whopping 1 point something. Not good.

What made you pursue your Ph.D.?

My son Darrien. I wanted to inspire him to drive towards excellence or at least give it his best shot in school. Simply put, I wanted to teach and lead by example.

How did you balance schoolwork with family and work responsibilities?

Very carefully. I can't say that I do it well all the time, but I try. It has taken a few years and a lot of heartache, but I have come to realize that I cannot compare myself to anyone else. Once I stopped comparing how I balance my life and priorities, balancing work and life became easier. Everybody has a different way of balancing life. For our family, I maintain a "Team McClain” calendar that has everyone's schedule. This helps me keep from over-committing myself and feeling overwhelmed. Even more importantly, I am very blessed to have a supportive husband and family. My husband and children keep me grounded and focused.

Why is it important for military personnel to pursue their education?

It is important to have the educational foundation and credentials to support your experience. Getting a degree not only provides you with a personal sense of accomplishment, but shows potential employers that you can see things through to completion. It shows them commitment. This summer I will be headed back to school at the National Intelligence University for the Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence program. This professional military education (PME) program is an amazing opportunity for me to gain additional experience that I will be able to use in my post-military career in public service.

Should military personnel own their own businesses?

If they have a business, product, or service they are passionate about, then absolutely. I would encourage people to do their research on their industry of interest and then contact the Small Business Association (SBA) for assistance on starting a veteran owned business.

Any words of wisdom for Service members considering going back to school?

Most military members will be too young to completely retire. We (military members) have obtained a lot of skills during our careers that can translate into second careers. Find your passion and pursue it with the same vigor that you employed in your military career. While that may sound trite, it is very true.

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