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ACSC holds first Maxwell ceremony for distance learning graduates

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The dean of Air Command and Staff College's Online Master's Program said the inaugural graduation ceremony for all online students who completed the course in the last 12 months took place June 27.

"We want this to be an annual commencement ceremony at the school with Air University leadership present," Dr. Bart Kessler said. "It was also an opportunity for students to interact with online instructors who are located all over the globe."

He said the event included faculty development lectures, research awards and lunch and "about a dozen students and a dozen instructors" attended the function.

Christopher Walker, ACSC Distance Learning director of student services, said this year's ceremony was the initial effort, and he hopes attendance will grow in the future as word gets out about the graduation event.

"We hope to do this every summer to recognize both the students and the instructors for their accomplishments," he said.

Mr. Walkers said he receives a large number of telephone calls and e-mails from people telling him how much they like the program. He said online students receive the same Master's of Military Operational Arts and Sciences degree as in-residence students.

"This is an opportunity to get professional military education and a master's degree even though students are constantly deploying and have families to care for," he said. "They really love the enrichment of the distance learning approach and say the environment is very similar to in-residence, or seminar, environments due to the large number of students involved."

Maj. Robert Mammenga, one of the students who attended the graduation ceremony and serves with U.S. Air Force Europe at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, said he would "highly recommend" the program to others, as it is a "great way" to complete the ACSC requirements and earn a master's degree.

"The program exceeded my expectations. I expected the challenging course work, but did not expect the unique opportunity to share ideas and insights with such a talented group of military professionals," he said. "Military officers bring a unique perspective, and the program's format really brought that perspective to the forefront each week."

Major Mammenga said he thinks having taken the online master's program makes him a better leader than if he had completed the course through correspondence.

He said the discussions with his peers the program provided created a perspective that isn't possible in a correspondence course.

"Communications is always a challenge in an online course, but our instructors met that head-on," he said. "I completed my course from Germany, and hats off to my instructors who responded to any questions I had within a day."

Mr. Walker said with the online program, every student has to participate, but it is a written participation where their response is "thought out."

He said another factor that is of value to the program is that students let faculty know what they need, and that helps DL faculty members set up classes to meet those needs.

Dr. Kessler said the distance learning program is "very useful" to Air Force members during the present climate of so many extended deployments and other mission related duties. It also provides a way for those not selected to come to Maxwell to take the Air Command and Staff College course.

"It is alternative learning for those who can't come for in-residence instruction," he said. "The students like it and get a lot of value from it, and this course can be done from anywhere there is an Internet connection."

Mr. Walker said it normally takes between 16 and 22 months to complete the 11 courses of the online program, and an advantage of the Distance Learning program is that students, because of their jobs, are often living what they are talking about in the classes.

"The amount of feedback we are receiving is phenomenal, and just about all comments are compliments," he said. "It is a lot of work, but the students like it because they learn so much."