Retired Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Matthew Spencer, the mayor of Somersworth, NH, and Kimberly Robertson, the wife of a U.S. Navy fire control technician and founder of a free-trade T-shirt company, have something in common besides their military connections.
Both Spencer and Roberston are graduates of the University of Phoenix, a primarily online college that is less well known for its campus offerings – including a location here in Braintree – and the support and opportunities it provides military members and their families.
In profiles in the Summer 2012 edition of the university's Patriot magazine, produced for its approximately 50,000 military students, Spencer and Robertson credit the school for helping them shift into rewarding careers.
"Every military spouse understands how hard it is to enroll in a traditional university with Uncle Sam constantly throwing wrenches into set plans and the possibility of a [permanent change of station]," Robertson told the magazine.
But it is not just students who benefit from the university's support systems and flexible nature, as evidenced by the recent decision of two university employees at the Brainree location to nominate campus administrators for the Patriot Award.
The awards are given to employers for promoting cooperation and understanding between themselves and employees who are members of the military reserves, and are sponsored by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense organization.
"We believe very strongly in our military," John DiCicco, College Chair at the , said in a recent interview. "They are one of the backbones of our institution."
Receiving the awards were DiCicco, Campus Director Jodi Ashbrook, Academic Affairs Director Allison Moroz and Program Manager Mohammed Agwa. Along with certificates, Ashbrook was invited on a trip from Westover Air Reserve Base to a base in Georgia on a C-5B Galaxy, and the other three administrators were honored during a lunch at Woods Hole.
John Martorana, a veteran of the U.S. Army and law professor at the university, nominated Moroz, Agwa and DiCicco for the Patriot Award to thank them for being supportive, DiCicco said. In addition to teaching, Mortorana works full-time for the Federal Communications Commission and is raising two children with his wife.
"He's one of our best law professors," DiCicco said. "We find a way to make it work because he's valuable."
Ashbrook was nominated by Cara Lustig, an enrollment adviser who is trained to help military students. Lustig is a reservist at Westover Air Reserve Base who was recently promoted to second lieutenant.
"Jodi has supported my training and military leave without hesitation," Lustig said in a statement. "She is enthused with my service and asks me for weekly updates on my Air Force career."
Staff members like Lustig deal with a "pretty intense juggling act," Ashbrook said. "As an employer, it's important for us to recognize that."
There are eight faculty members who serve the Braintree campus, Ashbrook said, and 150 reservists or guardsmen students, out of about 450 that are enrolled through the campus. Another 3,000 Massachusett students take online classes only.
One of the key benefits for military students, the adminstrators said, is that they can easily transition between campus classes and online-only learning, which is especially helpful when they are mobilized for training or deployment overseas.
Earlier this summer, the Braintree campus held a military appreciation week where students and faculty were presented with T-shirts. And on a larger scale, the university helps out through programs such as a scholarship parternship with the advocacy organization American Veterans, and another with the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.
"We truly understand about commitment to country and to purpose," DiCicco said. "If they protect us, we are going to protect them."