STEM Degrees

STEM Degrees

Postby COMEVIL » Thu Oct 29, 2015 12:31 pm

From Station HYPO:

Station Hypo

From STEM to Stern

This ship is built to fight, from stem to stern! In nautical parlance, stem is synonymous with the bow of the ship. The saying stem to stern, then, represents the entire ship, or the total package. STEM has a role for the IW Officer as well, especially with regards to the total package. In this case, STEM represents degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. If you have been paying attention to selection board convening orders as of late, STEM graduate degrees have been steadily increasing in value when it comes to selection for advancement, milestone tours, and command. While we can debate the true value of an IW Officer earning a STEM degree, that is not the point of this post. The point here is to provide pro-tips for completing a STEM graduate degree, leveraging currently available programs and resources, while also identifying potential solutions to increase throughput and educate the force.

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS)

NPS is the gold standard for Naval Officers earning STEM graduate degrees. According to a recent graduate, "The Naval Postgraduate School affords an amazing experience and an excellent opportunity to take advantage of a variety of activities not available at the typical shore command, all while earning a Master's degree." While the curriculum is challenging, instructors are top-notch, many of which are recruited from some of the best schools in the country, and quality of life in Monterey is superb. From the NPS website, "Selection for the Navy's fully funded graduate education program is based on outstanding professional performance, promotion potential and a strong academic background." Graduates also have the opportunity to complete JPME Phase I.

Offerings for IW Officers include Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Cyber Systems and Operations, and Space Systems Operations (limited quotas). Annual quotas for each program range around 6-7, with Space Systems Operations offerings limited to 1. For a community with approximately 500 O2-O3s, that isn't a lot of throughput. Assuming you meet the academic requirements, timing of attendance matters, given community demands, career path, previous performance, etc. For example, attending NPS while in zone for LCDR could result in two consecutive years of NOB FITREPS before the board, potentially impacting or derailing selection. However, a fairly senior LT coming off a tactical tour who had strong at sea FITREPS and strong FITREPS “in traffic” prior to sea duty should be safe attending NPS immediately prior to an in zone look. Timed correctly, NPS offers a first class education and a once in a lifetime experience.

Internships and Fellowships

The Navy has a fantastic amount of internships and fellowships, including the Federal Executive Fellowship (FEF) program, Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Military Fellowship, Political Military Master's Program, and Olmstead Scholarship. While these are great opportunities to expand your portfolio, none of these programs leads to a STEM Master's degree.

Graduate Education Voucher

The Graduate Education Voucher “enables selected officers, with demonstrated superior performance and potential for future contributions to the Navy, to earn a Navy-relevant Master’s degree leading to an approved subspecialty while meeting other Navy needs.” Unfortunately, this program is only available to Unrestricted Line Officers.

On Your Own Time/Dime

Potentially the most challenging, you can complete a STEM Master’s degree on your own time, leveraging funding assistance from the Navy. The GI Bill and Tuition Assistance (TA) are two available resources. From the Navy College Program website, "Tuition Assistance (TA) is the Navy's educational financial assistance program. It provides active duty personnel funding for tuition costs for courses taken in an off-duty status at a college, university or vocational/technical institution, whose regional or national accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education." Unfortunately, TA is capped at $250 a semester hour. Also, Officers who have already earned a Master’s degree are normally not eligible for TA.

Finding a quality, and reputable, educational institution that provides Master's-level STEM courses at those prices might be tough, but not impossible. For example, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) offers rates for military capped at $250, and includes distance learning opportunities for STEM Master’s degrees. Additionally, as one current IW Officer has noted, a request citing the board convening order guidance on STEM Master’s degrees was enough to justify a waiver and receive TA. Still, balancing a workload, family life, and off-duty education can be challenging.

The Way Ahead

IW Officer opportunities to earn a STEM Master's degree are limited. Yet, if the IW community is going to demand this level of education for its Officers, a supporting plan must be put in place. Fortunately, some work is being done to that end. A zero-based reviewed of IW Officer billets is currently underway, with the goal of assigning appropriate Q-codes to each. That in turn should drive up quotas at NPS, helping satisfy some, but not all, of these requirements. More can be done.

Expand the Graduate Education Voucher program. IW Officers should be able to leverage this same resource that is currently available to Unrestricted Line Officers. Expansion of this program to include IW Officers, and probably all Officers across the Information Dominance Corps, is a sensible first step.

Create a two year, career-intermission program for IW Officers to earn a STEM Master’s degree at an institution of their choosing and at their expense. This could be completed at minimal cost to the Navy (PCS transfer funds) and minimal impact to manning, if timed appropriately.

Establish a STEM-version of the Politico-Military Master’s Degree program, leveraging civilian universities and colleges that offer STEM Master’s degrees. Similar to the Politico-Military Master’s Degree program, a board will select the most competitive candidates and the program fund both the member’s transfer and education. Appropriate “pay-back” tours can be established to ensure the best return on investment.

The demand signal to expand STEM Master’s degree requirements across the IW Officer force has been sent. Now is it time to establish an appropriate plan to achieve that goal.
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby Mjölnir » Sun Nov 08, 2015 6:53 pm

Very good points made here, especially in the Way Ahead.

Opportunity to obtain a graduate-level STEM degree is slim with the best opportunity being being for a second tour junior officer and currently there is a section of mid-grade IW officers who 10-13 years ago were advised "just get a grad-degree." Some tried to attend NPS but timing or other factors prevented attendance.

Based on the most recent precepts as @comevil discusses, it is fair to say a message is being sent to the community. What is unknown is what is or if there is etc. a plan to address the small opportunity that IW officers have to obtain STEM degrees and those officers who are 2-4 years from screening for O5 &/or O5 command on whom the paradigm has quickly shifted.

I had the required APC, had good timing to PCS to NPS,had good-enough FITREPs to promote to O4 in the BZ but could not get a quota to attend a graduate education program; I took the "just get a grad-degree" advice and got a MA, and eventually another MA. My first three tours were Sub DIRSUP, Air SIRSUP and PCS Afloat ... it is disappointingly ironic that the sea-duty intensive route that more than one mentor said likely helped in the BZ selection may have negative impact on my being considered among the most "highly competitive" for O5 or command because I lack a STEM degree.

I would offer some points on the "Own time and own dime" method:

-My first MA was on my time & my dime, my second was on the Navy's dime but my time. Both were extremely painful on my family and also failed to obtain JPME I completion which has now been a 2 year "own time" experience as well.

I had last year requested a waiver to begin a graduate STEM program but had the waiver denied; so I hope some guidance from the IDC leadership to NETC or the Navy College can clarify the shift and make this available to all IW/IDC officers regardless of local interpretation for the necessity for a waiver.
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby Sum1 » Sun Nov 08, 2015 8:24 pm

This summer I applied for the TA policy waiver and was approved. I recommend trying again, if that's something you're interested in doing. I wish I could study on both the Navy's dime AND Navy's time, but that hasn't been in the cards for me. I'm competing against people for O-4 next year who've gone to NPS and checked the STEM degree block, but will only be about 1/3 of the way through my STEM program. It should be interesting to see what happens.
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby COMEVIL » Mon Nov 09, 2015 12:56 pm

Thanks for the comments, feedback, and discussion. Would love to see you share the same on the site: www.stationhypo.com

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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby Mjölnir » Mon Nov 09, 2015 1:28 pm

COMEVIL wrote:Thanks for the comments, feedback, and discussion. Would love to see you share the same on the site: http://www.stationhypo.com

v/r

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do you know why stationhypo isn't accessible on a gov't computer (at least mine)? Not that I look at NIPR while at work mind you ...
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby COMEVIL » Mon Nov 09, 2015 4:08 pm

Stalwart wrote:
COMEVIL wrote:Thanks for the comments, feedback, and discussion. Would love to see you share the same on the site: http://www.stationhypo.com

v/r

Comevil


do you know why stationhypo isn't accessible on a gov't computer (at least mine)? Not that I look at NIPR while at work mind you ...


Works on mine! Not that I look at NIPR either...

Might be some sort of local restriction.
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby Mjölnir » Mon Nov 09, 2015 5:46 pm

COMEVIL wrote:
Stalwart wrote:
COMEVIL wrote:Thanks for the comments, feedback, and discussion. Would love to see you share the same on the site: http://www.stationhypo.com

v/r

Comevil


do you know why stationhypo isn't accessible on a gov't computer (at least mine)? Not that I look at NIPR while at work mind you ...


Works on mine! Not that I look at NIPR either...

Might be some sort of local restriction.


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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby yoshi » Mon Nov 09, 2015 10:36 pm

Good topic. Completely understand the frustration with not having the same opportunity to finish a STEM degree as others. I felt the same way for a long period of time, and I still don't think its fair; life never is. Recently, however, my feelings on this matter have evolved. I've taken some time to think about what we really do, as officers. My experience tells me we gather and distribute information to people who need it, and we influence people. I have built zero widgets, coded zero programs, and even when I did some M&S/TCOR, it wasn't me writing/checking that code. I haven't served in every technical capacity possible, but, generally speaking, I've done the same thing for 11 commissioned years now - gather, refine, disseminate information with a view to influencing the right people/issue. And, when I looked around, that's what I see the VAST MAJORITY of officers doing - no matter their degree, no matter their rank. So, a STEM degree isn't going to make anyone more or less successful in our world; it's simply become, or will become, the price of admission to a particular command/rank.

The connection between what we actually do and any specific degree is non-existent, such assertion is laden with hubris, and it can't be ignored (even though it isn't the point of this thread). I used to figure out how to pay the price of admission, even rushed to do so. Now, however, I wonder: how beneficial is admission if the reward is the ability to continue laboring under the same hubris, promulgated by the same people??? Before I get hammered for saying we are filled with hubris, please keep in mind we (who are STEM heavier than others) are routinely getting our ass handed to us in the cyber world by those who don't have STEM degrees, many who don't have a bachelor's, and a few who don't even have a high school diploma. Kind of speaks to the value of STEM degrees in addressing the problem, I think (if - the problem isn't education, its the system). As for me, I'll pick one up if I can and it's low/no cost (not happening, as I already have MA), but I'm not chasing it so a board will think I'm cooler than someone else. If it shortens my career, so be it. I'm ok with being shown the exit, in that case. Who knows? It may lead me to an organization with a more practical approach and a better grasp on what things really matter. I think the Navy has the potential to suffer more than the deposed officers as a result of these types of precepts, anyway. Can't see the forest for the trees and can't understand what the Navy really needs us to do.
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby Sum1 » Tue Nov 10, 2015 9:16 am

How is this any different from the other gateway assignments? In the past, a successful PCS afloat tour and a grad degree was enough to basically guarantee selection to O-4 because the afloat tour was seen as the "hard job." Now, I haven't seen a reference to PCS afloat, SWO pin, OOD in any selection board result emails coming out of Millington. I do, however, see a reference to the tactical IW AQD, which some people have for doing cyber jobs or being nominally assigned to the intel center on BLUE RIDGE for a few months. Not the same as those who've received the tactical IW AQD from three years on submarines, a few years on a ship, and/or a few years flying in aircraft.

I believe the selection details for O-5 recently had all... read ALL people with cyber AQDs selected for promotion. I understand the selection process is more complex than one single stat, but that sends a message to the community whether it's intended or not. STEM degree selections vs. non-selections also was skewed STRONGLY towards selection. We divested ourselves of the National Securities studies options at NPS to make room/free up money for STEM degrees, which removed a Navy-funded degree option from those who were more interested in that topic, but it also sent a message to the workforce ... we value technical education more than other types of education. It is all serving to shape the force, and I see the force shifting strongly towards cyber and further and further away from SIGINT and EW (the focus of afloat units/assignments). Others may be able to comment on this with more authority, but I seem to recall someone saying after the O-5 command/milestone selection board that CRCs/afloat-focused officers were disadvantaged as compared to those who've done a lot of cyber/NSA/CYBERCOM/etc assignments. The excuse given at the time was "ducks pick ducks," but again, no matter the reasoning behind it, it sends a message to the workforce.
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Re: STEM Degrees

Postby yoshi » Tue Nov 10, 2015 4:10 pm

Sum1,
I understand where you are coming from. I'm actually pretty happy the community has been trumpeting the importance of cyber where command/promotion is concerned. I'd rather have them do that than not advertise it. At least it frames the choices one has. We could talk all day about whether or not it makes sense (a worthy exchange of ideas/debate), but the most important factor isn't what is best for the community. The most important factor is what's best for you and the choices available to obtain it. The community has been pretty honest with what it wants via precepts and other information. And, there has been (very) palpable urgency in leadership's actions to get it. The community isn't sending a subtle message. It's broadcasting directly. No matter my opinion of the content, I personally appreciate the candor used by the community in communicating intentions.
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