CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — On a warm winter morning on wooded Camp Lejeune, a young corporal steps out of her car. She’s parked in front of the Single Marine Program, French Creek Recreation Center and Learning Distance Education Center preparing for her graduation speech.
Cpl. Erica Pickle, of Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from the first cohort of the United States Naval Community College’s Naval Studies Certificate program summa cum laude – with the highest distinction.
“I enjoyed all of the courses,” said Pickle, as she walked into the building to record her speech. “But I thought the NAV 101 and NAV 105 courses were the most interesting. We think [that] we think every day, but we don’t think of thinking as a process.” She said these courses introduce different concepts that help her think through the process and comparing and contrasting different perspectives to develop her leadership skills. “It brings you into NAV 105, where you get to try those critical thinking processes and try and test some of those things you picked up along the way.”
The NAV 101 course is Naval Ethics and Leadership and is the first Naval Studies course students take in the program. NAV 101 starts with the Sailor, Marine, or Coast Guardsmen at the self level and puts them into the perspective of learning from each other and developing a broad view of leadership, setting the tone for the rest of the program.
After taking all of the other Naval Studies courses, students take the capstone course, NAV 105 – Introduction to the Geopolitical environment. This course focuses on taking everything the student has learned up to this point and developing a research paper, which includes the historical case studies in NAV 102 – Modern Naval History, the bigger picture of the naval services in NAV 103 – Naval Force Design, and putting it into the context of the Federal government in NAV 104 – Civilian/Military Relations, Organization, and American Government. The students choose an international topic and discuss why this is strategically relevant to the naval forces. These courses were designed to align with similar courses taught at other institutions in the Naval University System.
The first graduates of the Naval Studies Certificate program comprises 34 Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen from Japan to Bahrain, California to North Carolina. These five courses were taught entirely online and asynchronously, giving each service member an opportunity to balance their work life with the pursuit of naval-relevant education.
For those who have been in the Marine Corps since before the Global War on Terrorism, they have seen education opportunities change drastically during their career.
“I wish I had this program when I was younger,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Hensley, USNCC’s command senior enlisted leader. Having started his career as an infantry Marine, Hensley spent weeks in field training exercises. These conditions did not facilitate the opportunity for Hensley to pursue his education via traditional means. “If I wanted to go to school as a young Marine, they would have to have someone drive me out of the field to attend class for a few hours, then drive me back when class was done. This would have to be done a couple times a week.”
“There’s no way I could have participated in something like this if it wasn’t virtual,” said Pickle. The online and asynchronous model allows Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen anywhere with an internet access the ability to continue their education.
Pickle said she knew the Coast Guard existed, but wasn’t aware of the importance of their mission. “I remember seeing a Coast Guard officer in the recruiting office, and that was my literal extent of knowledge of the Coast Guard,” she said. “Now, I have a much clearer understanding of the role and purpose they have and their effects on the entire operation.”
“The Naval Studies Certificate is designed with fleet input to be both a part of the student’s associate degree and build skills the operating force needs,” said Russ Evans, associate dean of Naval Studies at USNCC. “Whether it is expeditionary advanced operating bases or distributed lethality, we will ask more junior individuals to make bigger decisions with less support more quickly. The Naval Studies Certificate is designed to prepare students for those challenges.”
The Naval Studies Certificate’s 15-semester-credit program is a stackable certificate within each of the associate degree programs offered by USNCC. These stackable certificates mean USNCC students will be able to build on the education they earn to develop a journey of lifelong learning.
“We want our Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen to continually progress in learning. Through continued lifelong learning, our men and women in uniform are key to enhancing operational readiness and advancing the warfighting advantage over our competitors and adversaries,” said President Randi R. Cosentino, Ed.D., of USNCC. “This Naval Studies Certificate program is a key component to ensuring the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard better develop the intellectual talent we have at all paygrades in the services.”
During her graduation speech, Pickle compared her education to the obstacle course Marines use to develop their confidence and capabilities to overcome any challenge. “There are walls to scale, ropes to climb, barbed wire to low-crawl under,” she said, “but every graduate here, they put in the work, and they earned that Naval Studies Certificate.”
The Naval Studies Certificate program will be opening up for a pilot command-referral phase February 1, 2023. These Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen will be directly referred by their commands as prime candidates to earn an independent Naval Studies Certificate.
“For the USNCC to be successful, we have to provide naval-relevant classes and content,” said Dan Goff, Ph.D., professor of Naval Studies and a retired Marine. “The only way we can really ensure that is feedback from the students, but also the commands where those students come from.
“I really think the information is invaluable,” said Pickle. “For enlisted service members – not just Marines, not just Navy – but generally, being reminded of what democracy is or what the purposes of the services are is really important.”
To learn more about the Naval Studies Certificate program, or to find out more about the command nomination program, go to www.usncc.edu.
The United States Naval Community College is the official community college for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. To get more information about the USNCC, go to www.usncc.edu. Click on the Apply Now link to become a part of the USNCC Pilot II program.