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

Fight for a Change

I believe that we have forgotten how to fight in this country. The further we get from the fighters of the 1950’s and 1960’s such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the further we get from fighting that makes a difference in society. The Occupy movement was a perfect example of this. For all of their bluster, they accomplished nothing and broke dozens of laws that had nothing to do with their cause in the process. They left filth on the streets and caused problems for people that had nothing to do with those they were protesting. In comparison, think of the four young men from North Carolina A&T who in 1960 quietly sat at a lunch counter and simply asked to be served coffee. They were refused because of their skin color. These four young men took up a fight as gentlemen (in the old sense of the word) and with dignity and grace. They were heard. They caused real change.

Fighting involves risks. I believe that Dr. King knew of his impending death and spoke of it just before he was assassinated. Corrie Ten Boom knew that if the Nazis discovered evidence of her fight against totalitarianism by hiding Jewish people in her home, she would lose her life. The Chinese students who died in Tiananmen Square gave their lives so they could raise their voices.

We need to recapture the fires of change in our bosoms and stand against all forms of injustice. Find your passions and fight for them. Take risks. Be willing to lose what you cannot keep so that you can gain what you cannot lose (Jim Eliot). Remember that “a man [that] hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” (Dr. King). Maintain the pressure on your “boilers” so you are hot enough to fight but not so hot as to explode. Leave nothing on the battlefield except the echos of your cries for change.

My First Teaching Job

I just secured my first online teaching job. I’m partnering with TutorUniverse (http:/www.tutoruniverse.com) to provide tutoring at primary, secondary, college, and adult education levels. The areas I’m providing service in are a broad spectrum of disciplines to include information technology, writing, academic paper preparation, Bible, and Theology. TutorUniverse’s interactive virtual classroom is state of the art. The fee is hourly and the prices are very reasonable. Once you sign up, you can specify me by searching for my full name.

tutoruniverse2

These are the specific areas I am working in:

Academic Writing, Agile Methodology, APA formatting, Bible, Blogging, Business Analysis, Computer Applications – Microsoft Access, Computer Applications – Microsoft Excel, Computer Applications – Microsoft Word, Database, English Composition and Academic Writing Skills, Information Systems, Introduction To Computer Science, Proofreading, Rational Quality Manager, Rational Requirements Composer, SDLC, Software Quality Assurance, Systems Analysis, Theology, Visual Basic for Applications

This approach to teaching is in concert with my post-grad research in Competency-Based Training.  Instead of conducting time-boxed classes where the goal is to finish and get a grade, I’ll be working one-on-one with distance learners that desire to develop competency in areas where they are lacking.  We will be done when they have developed the competency needed to do their jobs or succeed in school.  I am looking forward to working with a broad spectrum of students including home-schoolers.

Student vs. scholar

I am sitting just a few months shy of my second Master’s.  Three weeks after I get that, I undertake a second opportunity to get a  doctorate, only this time at age 50 instead of age 32.  In one of the uncounted number of random thoughts that come during periods of solitude, I was considering what the difference is between a student and a scholar.  A student sees studying as the means to an end such as a diploma or a degree.  A scholar sees studying as a beginning without needing a particular end in sight.  When I was 32, I was merely a student.  Today, I am scholar.

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

Never give in

Sir Winston Churchill was a gifted orator.  He has been credited for giving one of the most terse and powerful speeches in recent history.  The quotation is typically written like this:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never, never give in.

While Churchill did pen and read these words, they were part of a speech that was 723 words in length.  It is still an excellent example of how a fairly short oration (it takes a bit more than four minutes to read this) can have a profound impact.

In 1941, he delivered the following speech at the Harrow School, an independent boarding school where he studied as a youth.

Almost a year has passed since I came down here at your Head Master’s kind invitation in order to cheer myself and cheer the hearts of a few of my friends by singing some of our own songs.

The ten months that have passed have seen very terrible catastrophic events in the world—ups and downs, misfortunes—but can anyone sitting here this afternoon, this October afternoon, not feel deeply thankful for what has happened in the time that has passed and for the very great improvement in the position of our country and of our home?

Why, when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months. We were poorly armed. We are not so poorly armed today; but then we were very poorly armed. We had the unmeasured menace of the enemy and their air attack still beating upon us, and you yourselves had had experience of this attack; and I expect you are beginning to feel impatient that there has been this long lull with nothing particular turning up!

But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough. It is generally said that the British are often better at the last. They do not expect to move from crisis to crisis; they do not always expect that each day will bring up some noble chance of war; but when they very slowly make up their minds that the thing has to be done and the job put through and finished, then, even if it takes months—if it takes years—they do it.

Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must “…meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.”

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.

But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.

Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.

You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honor, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter—I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: “Not less we praise in darker days.”

I have obtained the Head Master’s permission to alter darker to sterner.  “Not less we praise in sterner days.”

Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.


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

University of Phoenix

I am a four classes away from finishing my Master of Information Systems degree at University of Phoenix. It has been made known to me that there are some who doubt the value of an online education at Phoenix and other quality schools with the mission of providing the highest quality of distance education available. Please accept this as my personal testimony in regard to the quality of what UoP 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 my testimony of what the University of Phoenix means to me. Whoever is reading this needs 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 1991. 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 understand that many of the people that will be attempting to influence the place on the education landscape of schools like the University of Phoenix have never been in an online classroom. I am somewhat baffled over how someone that has not even audited an online class feels qualified to determine the value of an online education. 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. For those in Washington who feel that the University of Phoenix is some sort of “diploma mill,” I issue you a challenge. Stand up in front of your colleagues and read one of the papers I’ve written while at Phoenix. After having read it, I challenge you to tell anyone in this nation that Phoenix is a diploma mill. I live in Baltimore, MD, just an hour north of The Capitol. If you like, I’ll hand-deliver the paper to you. In fact, if you want, while I’m there, invite me to stand on the floor of Congress so that you and your colleagues can ask me about my education. If you like, find a GS-15 Functional Analyst and have him or her quiz me on business and systems analysis. It will be easy to find me. I’ll be the 50-year-old guy with the red and white University of Phoenix ball cap.

*

Allow me to share a University of Phoenix story that took place just a few days ago. I am fortunate to have an unusual amount of experience in the class that I am in as of this writing. 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 don’t know who Sal is, you should consider improving your studies in contemporary education. 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? Maybe Congress should discount their value as well. If you do discount their value, then I guess you are saying Congress made a mistake when it chartered American University in 1893.
Here is something else to consider. If learning from home is less than credible then maybe working from home is also less than credible. If that is the case, then I guess the years that I have worked from home as a contractor to the Department of Veterans Affairs are not fully credible.

*

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.

*

The last group 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 am working with right now. 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. 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 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 I have been writing 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 is 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 two days ago, 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.”

*

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.