A not so chance encounter

I had a wonderful discussion with a man from Rwanda that I met in the parking lot at the FDA where I am serving as a senior business systems analyst. While my French is atrocious, I could see that the book he was carrying was a history book dealing with the struggles between blacks and whites in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994. I asked him if he had seen the movie Hotel Rwanda and if it was accurate. He told me that he had and unfortunately, it wasn’t. We started talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis and racism. He asked about the origins of racism. I talked to him about Dutch and British colonialism, the caste system in India and the Untouchables in particular, and also the treatment of the aboriginal people of Australia by the British settlers and even more contemporary Australians. Then he asked me a very poignant question, “what do we do to get rid of racism in this country?” I told him that the best things that we can do are to dispel falsehoods by teaching the truth and to show ourselves as friendly and respectful toward those of different people groups. We have to dispel the falsehood that there is a unified hatred of one group by another by proving that at least one person of that group doesn’t hate them.
We discussed what sort of teachings might change people’s minds. I spoke to him about the common ancestry of humanity as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. I told him stories of Moses and how his own brother and sister were upset with him because he married an Ethiopian woman. I told him of the Jewish people from Ethiopia that stood as a testimony to the fact that we are truly one race of people, a message he echoed to me earlier in our conversation. I told him of the origin of humanity being from North Africa and drawing the conclusion that if all people came from one place, then the essence of all humanity is identical and we simply have different appearances.
I asked him if he was familiar with the Gospel story and how when the edict went out to kill the male children two years and younger that Mary and Joseph fled to North Africa. He knew the story well. Being a Jew in my heritage and my pedagogy, I asked him a question versus presenting my conclusion. I asked him, “would parents of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy hide in a place where everyone had brown skin and black hair?” He smiled and said, “no.” Then he surprised me. He pulled out a book and asked me if I though it was legitimate because he had a friend that only spoke French who needed this book in French. The title was, “Nouveau Testament.” He knew there were versions floating around that had slight changes to promote the doctrines of certain cults. I opened the book to Jean 1:1, recited John 1:1 in English and asked him if that’s what it said. He confirmed that. I asked him to look at the phrase, “and the Word was God” and make sure that there was no indefinite article there, a trick of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to substantiate their Arian (not to be confused with Aryan) doctrine of Christ. He said there was none. We did a similar drill with Jean/John 3:16. He confirmed that what it says was what I recited. He was very happy because now he could give his friend what he was asking for.
We both ended our work days with a wonderful encounter. I have been telecommuting for five years. While I dislike making the drive, I love meeting people face to face.

An Independence Day Letter to my Students

I am privileged to be an adjunct professor for Everest College.  The opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of students is something I greatly relish.  On Independence Day, 2014, I wrote the following to my current students.  If you are a former student of mine, or if you just came across this blog for some other reason, I hope that you’ll take to heart the following:

Dearest Students:

As we go into this holiday weekend, I hope you all remember what we are truly celebrating. The independence that our nation gained over 200 years ago is something that allows us to be studying as we are here today. We don’t need any sort of royal decree to allow us to teach. In slightly over two centuries of existence, our great nation has accomplished many wonderful things. We face challenging times, as is often the case in any great nation. What makes America truly great is not only our great freedoms, but how we deal with struggles and the hard times in life.  We are an exceptional nation made up of exceptional people.
It’s important that you are always aware of the great sacrifices that it took to get to where we stand today. If while you’re watching a parade, you happen to see a veteran, go up to that man or that woman and express your thanks for that person’s service to our great country.  Having been a soldier, I can tell you that the greatest challenges are those we face when we get back into the “real” world. While many of our veterans don’t bear their scars on the outside, a great number bear scars on the inside. One out of every four homeless people is a veteran. On any given day, 22 veterans die at their own hands. If you started counting the number of veterans who died this way from New Year’s Day until Labor Day, the number would exceed those who died in the entire Iraqi conflict. Independence is something that we enjoy freely, but it didn’t come cheaply.
You have great things waiting for you after this class is done. College is one of the few places where you have the ability to determine almost everything that happens to you. You choose how much to study, you choose how hard you work on assignments, and you choose how much you participate in the discussion threads. If there is anything that I can tell you about your educational experience to come, it’s this; it doesn’t get easier. I have a dual Bachelor’s, a Diploma in Military Science, two Master’s degrees, and I’m working toward a postgraduate degree, and it is as hard today as it was when I was a college freshman 35 years ago. It’s always a challenge, but it’s always worth it. During the introductions to class, we ask you about those who will be your greatest supporters. It’s wonderful to have support, but remember one thing, the only one that you need to impress with what you do at school, is yourself. When you look at your grades, don’t gauge yourself so much on the letter grade as you do on the level of effort that went into achieving that letter grade. If you get a C in a class, and you put every bit of your being into earning that, then feel good about it. The size of the diploma of a student that carried a 2.9 GPA is not any smaller than that of a student who earned a perfect 4.0.

Best wishes to you all,
Andy Knaster, BA, MA, MSIS
Adjunct Prof., Everest College Phoenix Online

The repository of all knowledge…

A student in one of my introductory computer applications classes asked how she could learn more advanced functionality in the Microsoft Office while continuing to deal with working and going to school.  I pointed her at the repository of all knowledge, YouTube.  There are many professional software instructors and instruction organizations out there.  Many of them offer a select number of high-quality lessons for free.  Some do it out of a sense of community, others, with the hope of having you purchase their products.  When you put all of these free offerings together as samples in the world’s biggest mall, you are bound to get a complete set. Nonetheless, you can be the beneficiary.  Here is a simple two step process that works for just about anything in the Microsoft Office.

using YouTube to learn Microsoft Office

Clothes don’t make the blog

I was on a Web site devoted to providing instruction in a gamut of subjects (instructables.com).  I was looking for instructions on how to properly wear the keffiyeh I bought earlier in the year (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-wrap-a-Keffiyeh/).   

A keffiyeh is a garment of Middle Eastern origins.  My reason for wanting to know how to wear one follows.  The sad thing I discovered in looking at the comments that followed the simple keffiyeh wrapping instructions was some people trying to politicize the simple presence of a page instructing people how to wear a garment that some people associate with terrorism.  Instructables.com is an apolitical site.  It is there to show people that don’t know things how to do them, period.  This was my response to the post:

Thanks for the instructions.  The keffiyeh is an extremely practical garment.  I am going hunting tomorrow and it is supposed to be unseasonably warm.  I have a cold weather hunting balaclava, but it will be a bit too warm to wear.  I have a bright orange and black keffiyeh to go with my blaze orange and black hunting camouflage.  The first time I used the keffiyeh was at an outdoor garage sale where I was manning a booth in the sun for three+ hours.  It kept my very Caucasian skin from getting very burnt.  Its gauzy structure kept it from getting to be too warm.

For those who are trying to make this political because of its Semitic origins, please don’t go there.  I am a Jew, an American patriot, and a Zionist.  As much as the world tends to forget, Arabs and Jews have a common parentage and a common region.  The keffiyeh is not a religious garment, it is a garment of the desert nomad.  At one time, most of us Semitic folks were nomads in desert areas.  I was in the US Army and was stationed in the desert for three years.  I wish I knew how to wear one of these back then. We wore gauze cravats like keffiyehs but they didn’t stay in place as well and were not so easily converted back and forth to face covers.  My wearing of a keffiyeh does not make me any more of a Palestinian sympathizer than my wearing of an ushanka (the Russian ear-flap hat) makes me a fan of Vladimir Putin.  As a person of Ukrainian heritage, I despise Putin because he embodies the egotistical oligarchical leader who seems to think he is better and smarter than everyone else.  That doesn’t make me want to trade in my ushanka for a ski cap or ear muffs.

When I was a soldier, the Army implemented the PASGT, styled after the German Bundeswehr’s Gefechtshelm (helmet with ear covering that is favored by bikers).  That didn’t me a Nazi.  We wore ponchos too.  They have their origins in South and Central America.  

The bottom line is this, in America, we have a creole culture.  We see it in our arts, cuisine, language, and clothing.  Our nation has been fortunate enough to be able to borrow from the hundreds (if not thousands) of cultures of our citizens.  Let’s not be so ignorant and naive to think that we Americans should avoid cultural garb because it has its origins in cultures some of us might not agree with.

One reason why I am changing careers

I am changing careers.  After 25 years as a technologist, I am going into instruction and training.  I resigned my position as a business analyst in early August and stepped out in faith.  Originally, it was because my former employer could not place me in a business analyst position.  As I began to look for business analyst positions, I found that the fact I had been working in a different aspect of Information Technology for over one year severely impacted my ability to get a business or systems analyst position.  Instead of lamenting that, I have chosen to make a change.  Those who know me know that my passion is for education, particularly adult education.  I am devoting myself to changing to a career that involves instruction, training, and instructional design.

I have an application for a full time instructor position at a college that offers online instruction.  In a discussion with the recruiter for that position, I explained that one of my burdens for going into education is the plight of the combat veteran, who after leaving the service, finds that combat skills are not highly prized in the civilian workforce.  I wrote the following to her:

Sadly, the greatest danger to combat veterans these days is not the battlefield; it is coming home.  By Labor Day, more veterans will have killed themselves in 2013 than died in the entire Iraqi conflict.  When I was in seminary, I volunteered to serve in the first conflict as a chaplain.  The law does not allow seminarians to deploy overseas, but I was allowed to serve as a chaplain at Ft. Hood as part of the recovery effort in 1991.  I was on the ground for 18 hours when I was called to the Psychiatric ward of Darnell Army Medical Center.  One of our soldiers tried to kill himself by taking 400 Tylenol because he couldn’t cope with life after war.  One in four homeless people are veterans.  Remote education is a weapon to combat those problems.  Veterans can start to learn before they leave the service.  Veterans that have returned but are facing unemployment or underemployment can go to school after business hours.  Not having a meaningful job can lead to despondency.  Despondency is dispelled by hope.  Hope comes from a knowledge that something better is possible.  Career-focused education can provide hope.

There are three types of occupations: jobs, professions, and callings.  A job is something you take to put food on the table, regardless of what the duties are or if there is room for advancement.  You have obligations and are committed to meeting them.  Having a job is a fine and noble thing.  A profession is an occupation that your are committed to for the long haul.  You work extra hours, go to school for it, attend seminars and workshops to improve your skills, and take risks to demonstrate just how good you are.  Professions are also fine and noble.  A calling is a profession that is so all-encompassing that you cannot be satisfied with anything else.  A calling drives you to sacrifice.  A calling keeps you up at night and makes you excited for the next opportunity to operate within it.  My calling is in education.

I have made many applications and have some solid leads, but as with any career change, especially when you are older, finding positions is challenging.  If you know of an opportunity, please let me know or pass along my résumé (the link is below).

Andrew Knaster – Resume

Have unions outlived their value?

Before there were child labor laws, occupational safety laws, and a minimum wage, the unions in this country provided a huge service to their members.  In more recent times, unions have single-handedly harmed and killed businesses throughout the United States.  The death of Hostess Bakery came at the hands of a union.  In this case, it wasn’t the Teamsters.  They worked out a deal with Hostess.  We owe this one to the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (http://www.bctgm.org/).  That union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.  Maybe the AFL-CIO should take the $5.95 million its Political Action Committee gave to the Democrat Party in 2012 and give it to the families of the newly unemployed that it helped to create.

What are unions doing for us today?  They make sure that pro athletes get tons of money.  They don’t seem to do that for everyone though.  The three most important jobs an American can hold today are teacher, police officer, and firefighter.  In spite of the fact that these professions are largely unionized, the noble men and women in these jobs are some of the most notoriously underpaid in the nation.  A large group of people making less than them today are 18,500 Americans that used to have a job with Hostess.

If you want to say, “I told you so”

I am inviting anybody in the United States that held a different opinion than mine about our newly re-elected president to say, “I told you so” to me when any of the following happen:

  1. The national debt ceases to grow for 12 months straight
  2. Our credit rating goes back to AAA
  3. We completely leave Afghanistan
  4. A budget is passed
  5. The president sets foot in Israel
  6. Real unemployment stays at or below 6% for three consecutive months
  7. DOMA is repealed and benefits like Social Security and military spousal privileges are extended to all legally married people
  8. The academic rating in science and math of U.S. students gets back into the top ten in the world
  9. The president fulfills his 2009 promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay
  10. The number of appearances the president makes on talk shows in a year is less than the number of press conferences he holds in the same year
  11. There isn’t a single presidential appointee at the USDA that has not or does not benefit from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

You know where to reach me.

A Second Open Letter to Sen. Tom Harkin

On September 24, 2012, I posted the following letter to Senator Tom Harkin’s Senate Web page.

________________________________________________________________________

Senator Harkin:

As a veteran and taxpayer, I appreciate your desire to have the money used to educate our veterans be used effectively and efficiently. However, the presentation that you authored has issues. I’m trained in statistics and because of that, I could make a laundry list of issues. You are a very busy man so instead of going item for item, please allow me to point out one blatantly wrong slide. You have a slide entitled “For-Profit Colleges Employ Many Recruiters But Few Placement Staff.” From a subjective perspective, to have a slide with a title that indicates an issue with For-Profit Colleges as a group but then indicts a single one is disingenuous and ineffective because your case is that many schools have this problem, yet you showcase only one. It also smacks of a lack of objectivity and personal bias. Even if your chart is accurate, it does not make the point that this is a systemic problem.

Objectively, the slide in incorrect. University of Phoenix, the largest school under the Apollo Group umbrella, has an extremely robust Career Services site that covers the gamut of services from resume writing to career research to interview preparation. The site also lists major employers that Phoenix partners with to help find jobs for its graduates.

Your data was gathered from 2007 to 2010. I started at Phoenix in 2010 and I don’t know what its career placement services were like then. It could be that in 2010, your statement was accurate. However, it is nearly 2013 and it definitely is not accurate.

If I had the 20-30 hours free to write it, I would write a report that shows slide for slide, just how bad this report is. I don’t have the time to write it and anyone as busy as you doesn’t have the time to read it. Please consider making this “update” to your report as a show of good will. I’ll be the first person to thank you for that by making a post to that effect on my blog, andyknaster.com.

Since your Senate Web site has a link to that report on its home page, it appears that this is a report you are proud of and feel the people need to read. Don’t you owe it to your constituents and all of America to be accurate and up-to-date?

This is my second letter to you. I requested a response to the first one and I have not received it. I posted to your Facebook page and got no response. Please respond to this message. This is a very non-partisan issue. In this highly contentious and partisan time, taking action on a non-partisan issue is something I think would resonate well with many Americans.

Respectfully yours,
Andrew Knaster, BA, MA, MCP
University of Phoenix Master of Information Systems student, class of 2013

Sen. Tom Harkin needs to tell the truth

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) released a report that takes to task for-profit educational institutions such as the University of Phoenix, Capella University, DeVry, Kaplan, and others.  One of his slides states the Apollo Group, the owner of University of Phoenix has no career services or placement staff.

Senator Harkin's incorrect graph about the University of Phoenix's career placement staff

Senator Harkin’s incorrect graph about the University of Phoenix’s career placement staff

Source: http://www.harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/4f9ac62292704.pdf

That would be a very serious problem if it was true.  However, as the next picture clearly indicates, Sen. Harkin needs to study the facts a bit more and tell the American people the real truth instead of his truth.

University of Phoenix career services page

University of Phoenix career services page

An open letter to Senator Tom Harkin

Senator Harkin:

I am a three classes away from finishing my Master of Information Systems degree at University of Phoenix. I understand that you have serious doubts about the value of an online education provided by for-profit institutions like the Apollo Group’s University of Phoenix. Please accept this as my personal testimony in regard to the quality of what University of Phoenix provides. First, I want to address the reasons that I am writing this. Then I want to tell the story of many other students, my colleagues, some of whom have become lifelong friends.

I am a sixteen year veteran of the IT analysis profession. When I came to Phoenix, I already had a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Sociology from Rutgers University in Newark. Rutgers is one of the top research universities in the nation. I was made a member of Psi Chi, the National Honors Society for Psychology. I was also in the R.O.T.C program at Seton Hall University. Like Rutgers, Seton Hall is known by many to be a school of excellence. I received a diploma in Military Science from Seton Hall. My education there lead to my first career as an officer in the United States Army. While in the Army, I attended several schools including the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, KY, the Chaplain Officer Basic course at Fort Monmouth, NJ, and Nuclear , Chemical, and Biological Warfare training at Ft. Bliss TX. I logged over 1,000 hours on the instructor’s platform and I wrote the training evaluation program that was used to assess the combat readiness of Cavalry scouts. Several years after leaving the Army, I made a career change to being a full-time minister in a very large denomination. During that time, I earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies. I finished my studies in 1994 via distance learning that used video tape and textbooks. At the age of 32, I was accepted into the Doctor of Sacred Ministries program at what is now known as Northland International College. I was the youngest member of my class. Although I enjoyed my time in ministry, I realized that I did not have the temperament to be as effective a minister as I needed to be. Because I was a computer help desk lead for the three years I was getting my first Master’s, I was able to go into the technology field. My first job after being in the ministry was as a software instructor for a nationwide chain of computer stores owned by a stalwart of American business, The Tandy Corporation. Within two months of taking that job, I doubled my classroom capacity, added two part-time instructors, and had the second most successful training operation in the entire company. Tandy, the parent of Radio Shack, decided to close down the chain eight months after I was hired. In 1996, I became an applications analyst. The word “analyst” has been in my job title for most of the last 16 years.

If you examine the previous paragraph, you will not see any technology education. Until recently, that was not much of an issue. I have a Master’s, lots of experience, I have trained myself to program in several languages, and I am a Microsoft Certified Professional. I was able to get jobs that required someone with an IT Master’s degree because a line in the qualifications section of job postings used to say, “Has a Master’s degree in a technology field or commensurate experience.” Today, jobs such as the one I currently hold have dropped the “commensurate experience” from the qualifications. I found that out the hard way in 2010. I was a contractor on assignment to the Bureau of the Census. I wrote the requirements for the single largest operation in the 2010 Census. The application that was developed from those requirements impacted 49 million American homes. Once the Census was over, like most contractors, so was my job. It was then that I faced something I had only faced once in my life, unemployment. Apart from two weeks of unemployment while I was still in college, I have always been employed. I wasn’t concerned about finding a new position. After all, I thought that I was bringing so much to the table, that it would be only a matter of days until I found another job. That’s when I noticed the “commensurate experience” phrase dropped out of job descriptions. It took me seven weeks to find a new job. I was out of money and totally frustrated because all I had worked for counted for nothing to most employers because I didn’t have an IT degree. Within days of getting my new job, I enrolled in the Master of Information Systems program at Phoenix.

You might wonder why I have gone through this litany of education and experience. There is a simple reason. I am about to give you my testimony of what the University of Phoenix means to me. I am sure that you receive many letters from people that give you their opinions, qualified or not.  I think it is important to know when I speak of the quality of education, I speak from significant experience. When I speak of the modern technology workplace, I know first-hand what it is like. When I speak about the value of education, remember that I trained our soldiers in skills that meant something far more important than how to be profitable. I taught them how to avoid being killed and how to defeat the enemies of our great nation. My former unit, the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, was the first over the line during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. I did not worry for them because I was only one of an untold number of men and women who, regardless of formal education, made teaching them to succeed in the most hazardous work environment on Earth, the modern battlefield, their purpose in life. I have degrees from ground-based institutions and I had my first distance learning experience in 1994.

I have a very serious question to ask.  Did you or any member of the committee that produced the disparaging report on for-profit online learning institutions even audit an online class?  I know that with the massive amount of work involved in running our country’s business, such things are not always possible.  I would like to make you an offer with the hope that it might help you to reconsider your position.  I know the value of an online education. I am staking my career on it. I carry a 4.0 GPA average at Phoenix that I have worked extremely hard for. Please let me present you with one of the papers I’ve written while at Phoenix.  I live in Baltimore, MD, just an hour north of The Capitol. If you like, I’ll hand-deliver the paper to you.  While I’m there, feel free to invite me to stand on the floor of the Senate so that you and your colleagues can ask me about my education.  If you like, find a GS-15 Functional Analyst (that is the equivalent to the job I hold) and have him or her quiz me on business and systems analysis.  I’m willing to put a lot on the line.  I make my living as a government contractor.  If I come across as anything less than competent, I will be jeopardizing my own career.  I stand nothing to gain by this.  I’ll be done with Phoenix in six months.  I want to make sure that Phoenix and schools like it are available after you and I are not around to discuss this.  I want my kids and grandkids to have the same options I have now.

Allow me to share a University of Phoenix story that took place quite recently. I was fortunate to have an unusual amount of experience in the class that I just completed. That comes through in the answers to the discussion questions that each student is required to submit at least twice a day, four days per week. (As an aside, I’ve not experienced a ground-based program that has such a requirement. My first class at Rutgers University had over 400 students. Nobody was required to raise their hands, let alone make what Phoenix calls “a substantive contribution.”) One of my classmates asked why I didn’t just test out of the class. Apart from the fact that such a thing isn’t done in my program, I had the following answer for him:

I have been in this business for a lot of years and I know a lot of things but I am self-taught. The inherent danger of being self-taught is that you teach yourself what you need to know, so by default you don’t know what you don’t know. That results in knowledge with holes in it. I have never had a class here where I didn’t discover at least one hole in my knowledge. When I start my teaching career, I owe it to my students to be as free as possible from holes in my knowledge because I can’t teach them about things I know nothing of.

You see, I have one more career change ahead. For most of my adult life, I have wanted to teach professionally. It was shortly after I started at Phoenix that I finally decided I would leave my career in IT and teach IT to distance learners full time. I have already been accepted into the post-graduate program of Liberty University in Virginia. Liberty has a fully-accredited online education program as well as a fully-accredited ground-based program. In case you are wondering why I am not getting my Doctorate at Phoenix, it is because the Liberty is faith-based and I want to have the Christian worldview of Liberty impact me in a way that a secular university cannot.

If you think that a quality education can only come through a ground-based education, please consider the following. By the time I complete my Doctor of Education degree at Liberty, I will have attended the school both online and on the ground. I do not anticipate learning less while at home than I will on the ground. Bricks and mortar are not key ingredients in getting a world-class education. If they were, then I guess Sal Khan didn’t get the message because he educates almost as many people as Phoenix.  If you aren’t familiar with Sal, I’d highly recommend that you read up on him.  Sal has the benefit of being underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I want to do what Sal is doing.  To do that, I need companies like the Apollo Group to “underwrite” my efforts.  I need a virtual platform to stand on.  The Apollo Group, by providing the service of the University of Phoenix, gives me that platform.

If bricks and mortar are your thing, then before you discount Phoenix because its students can get degrees online, please remember that the University has over 200 ground-based schools, including three within driving distance of my home, that I may attend any time I want to. I have physical limitations that make such a thing extremely difficult. Fortunately, the only wall between me and the University of Phoenix is a firewall. There is something else you should be aware of. American institutions like Harvard and American University in D.C. have online programs now. So does my Alma Mater, Rutgers University. Those three schools have been teaching people for a combined total of 740 years. I think it is safe to say that they know a lot about education. Have they made mistakes in offering online learning?

That’s my story. Allow me to share the story of another group of University of Phoenix students, those who are depending on their degree to help them make a change in their lives. As much as I struggled to find a job during my seven weeks of unemployment, I could have easily had a job in the high five-figures instead of the six-figures I was accustomed to. The folks I’m talking about have no hope of a future without an advanced degree. As part of giving back to the school, I volunteer my time to mentor my classmates that are struggling with the material. These folks fall into roughly three categories. The first are students with a native tongue other than English. They have come here from all over the world. I remember of couple of Serbian students who lived in danger every day. During DBM/502 (a database management course), I worked with a man who came here from Serbia. The gentleman was very intelligent but was struggling with grasping some concepts because English doesn’t always translate well, especially technical terms. My facilitator let me take time with him so I could explain some of the principles he wasn’t catching by presenting him with several analogies. He got it and finished the class. Without Phoenix and other high-quality online institutions, this man’s American dream would be limited to jobs that paid far less than those he had the ability to hold. He has a wife and three children along with a full-time job. No ground-based program in this country would have worked for him.

The second group of people are single moms with children at home. Some of them had not worked outside of the home for years while others worked in technical jobs but had hit the limit of what jobs they could get. These women are like lionesses watching over their cubs. They sacrifice to provide for them as well as they can. I remember spending hours tutoring and counseling with a single mom from California. Her husband left her with no support and three kids. She was a nurse but like a lot of tech-savvy non-IT people, she was the one that people went to for solutions to their computer problems because the help desk was backed up or because it was three AM and while the help desk is sleeping, the nurses are working. She tried getting tech jobs but she found out very quickly that being tech-savvy didn’t qualify her for jobs, even if she knew how to do them. Where and when is that woman going to get the degree she needs?

I remember working with another single mom that had great grades but she was struggling with an important concept in the class we took together. She wasn’t available to work with me until later in the evening because she worked all day and had to put her kids to bed after spending some time with them. I set up a Web conference with her and we worked through that tough spot for almost six hours. After that, she was rock-solid for the rest of the class. I guess I am particularly sympathetic to their plight because I was raised in the 1960’s by a single mom. In those days, being a single mom was not commonplace like it is today. She worked very hard and eventually became the vice-president of a company.

Being a distinguished veteran yourself, I think you’ll share my feelings about the group that is closest of all to me.  These are the veterans that never quite made the transition from the military to the civilian world. I was fortunate to make the transition. When I was in the Army, I had an additional duty that required me to learn office automation. Even with that skill, it was hard for me to find a job. I was a Cavalryman in one of three Armored Cavalry Regiments in the Army. My Regiment’s mission was to conduct reconnaissance, find the enemy, engage with them, start killing them, and then draw them toward the heavy armored units to finish the job. There is not a lot of a call for those skills in the civilian world. I was two days away from running out of money when I finally got a job offer for a position that paid $20,000 less than I made as an Army officer.

At Phoenix, I’ve worked with many vets but let me tell you the story about one of our patriots that I worked with recently. In the University of Phoenix, unlike ground-based schools, we are required to share a biography with the class before getting started. Let’s call the vet I’m about to talk about Bill. Bill’s biography showed a man full of frustration and anger because after eight years in the military, he was never able to get the sort of job he needed to take care of his family, a wife and eight children. The class facilitator treats Bill with exceptional grace but there is only so much he can do because he is, as are most of the facilitators, a full-time IT professional (something you do not find in traditional universities). Bill has made it clear to the class that he knows technology but without this degree, he’s just not going to make it in the world. Bill, like so many others, has had low-end tech jobs, but because he does not have the appropriate degree, he has stagnated. As a former Army chaplain with some amount of pastoral counseling experience, I feel confident in saying that he is depressed and possibly bordering on despondency. For a vet, despondency can be fatal. In the 90 or so minutes that it took to write this, one of our veterans has taken his or her own life. 18 veterans per day die this way. More veterans have died this way in the last 12 months than during the entire conflict in Iraq. I asked the facilitator if it was acceptable for me to work with Bill on the side. He most gladly gave me permission. Bill was a hard case. After two days of working with him, I was telling my wife about him and I broke down crying because I wasn’t sure if I could get through. She encouraged me to stay with him. After all, I hope to be a full-time educator in a few years and there are a lot of hard cases out there. The next few days weren’t very different but after another attempt at getting him to understand a concept that he wasn’t getting, he made a post to our team’s discussion forum. There were three words in that post that should be carved in stone as a testimony of what the University of Phoenix and other quality online institutions can do in the lives of their students. The words were “I got it.”

You made a very successful transition from the military to the civilian world.  From what I read, I understand that you are a gifted photo-journalist.  However, distinguished military service and a gift for art do not necessarily a senator make.  I can only assume that you pursued your J.D. to prepare you for your current career.  Vets need a variety of educational options.  Schools like University of Phoenix provide a vital avenue to getting the education many need to make the sort of transition you and I did.

Education is the key to breaking down so many barriers in our country. Even today, we discriminate against people because of their color, their gender, their sexuality, and particularly their levels of education. Online learning is a battering-ram that breaks down those barriers. I am so committed to it that when I walk the platform as Dr. Knaster instead of Mr. Knaster, I’m quitting my job and teaching Bill, the single moms, the former refugees, and anyone else that wants to live out the American dream by working hard and earning a degree. Please do not mitigate against my dream or the dreams of the hundreds of thousands of American distance learners in this country and around the world. Some people’s lives depend on it.

Thank you for your time.

Andrew G. Knaster, BA, MA, MCP
Baltimore, MD