A New Line of Duty

Veterans of the US military find Michigan Tech a great place to learn—and teach.

Glen Archer came to Michigan Technological University as a major in the United States Air Force to work with the University's Air Force ROTC detachment. After he retired from the military, Archer '13 stayed at Michigan Tech, earned a PhD in electrical engineering, and joined the faculty.

Michigan Tech is routinely ranked a great school for veterans. And, like Archer, dozens of men and women who have served their country find it is a great fit in civilian life as well.

Three Careers

"I actually had two careers in the Air Force," Archer, interim chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1972 and spent the first half of his nearly 30 years in the military as an enlisted person. "As I was nearing the 15-year mark, I enrolled in the Airman Education and Commissioning Program (AECP) at Texas Tech." AECP gives enlisted personnel the opportunity to complete their bachelor's degree and subsequently earn a commission. Archer spent the next 14 years as an officer in the Air Force, retiring with the rank of major.

Archer says his military service shaped his world view. "The first thing you'll find (in the military) is a focus on the mission. We let other considerations take a secondary role, and we're really willing to bring the resources necessary to complete the mission." Archer's wife Ruth '86, the director of continuous improvement at the University, is also an Air Force retiree.

Archer feels a military background is an advantage in the classroom. "The military gives you a sense that you are part of something bigger than yourself. You tend to look at communication and leadership differently than civilians."

Archer says he often recommends military service to his students and has written several letters of support. He took that support a step further last year when he flew to Texas to help administer the officer's oath to a former student.

Training Ground for Leadership

Heather Knewtson finds similarities between serving in the US Army and on the Michigan Tech faculty. Knewtson, an assistant professor of finance in the College of Business (COB), says she has carried the leadership skills she observed and learned in the military into civilian life. "As a professor, the context has changed, yet soldiering skills are put to direct use—establish trust, teach skills, make the mission clear, and hold people accountable."

Knewtson served from June 1988 to June 1992. She served in the 701st Military Intelligence Brigade in Augsburg, Germany, at the end of the Cold War. She says she learned leadership from great leaders among both officers and enlisted. "I learned that authority is both formal and informal."

She says her squad sergeant, Staff Sergeant Mike Walz, was an accomplished leader who entrusted his squad members to perform beyond their rank. "For example, as a private first class I took the initiative to serve my unit as the training sergeant. Sergeant Walz extended me this authority, although I was not a sergeant. Competence and initiative were recognized and informal rank was extended to accomplish the mission."

She sees that same quality among students at Michigan Tech. "Many will show initiative and yearn for more. This is to be encouraged and developed. We need leaders in business as well as in the military."

Knewtson says she is, above all, "grateful for the opportunities to serve my community, Michigan Tech, and the US Army."

An Edge

Shane "Sully" Sullivan is manager of merchandising operations (Campus Store and University Images) and oversees Campus Store daily operations. In that capacity, he leads full-time and student staff responsible for sales and inventory of course materials, school supplies, University apparel, and even snacks and beverages. It's the kind of job that demands flexibility and the ability to think on one's feet—skills Sullivan picked up serving in the US Air Force. His tour of duty took him from Ramstein, Germany, to Gwinn, Michigan's KI Sawyer AFB. During his six-year stint, he served as a security policeman, rising to the rank of sergeant.

"My military career provided me a lot of opportunities to experience a wide range of cultural aspects, from food, history, art, and architecture," he says. "Professionally, the military broadened my leadership skills and taught me how to handle stressful situations and think quickly on my feet with little or no information."

Sullivan says the specialty training he received in the Air Force "stressed the importance of teamwork, hard work, attention to detail, and strong communication." Most importantly, he says, the military made him even more trainable for whatever career path he chose. "For employers who were hiring, even though they weren't seeking someone with military experience, I'd like to believe having that experience gave me an edge."

Mission: Accountability

Mari Buche in uniform.
Mari Buche during combat crew commander training for Minuteman II ICBM weapon systems. (Whiteman AFB, Knob Noster, Missouri)

Like many Michigan Tech faculty, Mari Buche's service in the military began in college. Buche, associate dean and professor of management information systems in COB, was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Georgia. Her career field was ICBM missile operations.

"My military service has shaped me as a professional and, in turn, has impacted my academic career. Some of the most obvious areas are leadership training, time management, and integrity," Buche says. "As military officers, we were trained to accept responsibility and to look out for our people— simultaneous attention to both mission and personnel. The less obvious outcomes of military service are loyalty and empathy, two traits that are equally important today. We worked closely as a unit and we held each other accountable. When work needed to be done, we worked together to meet deadlines."

Support and Advancement

Unlike others interviewed for this story, Nancy Seely did not start at Michigan Tech following military service—but during it. Seely joined the US Coast Guard Reserve in 1983 while living in Texas. Three years later, when she and her family moved to Houghton, she transferred to the USCG Reserve Unit Portage located in Hancock.

Despite coming to work for Michigan Tech in 1993, Seely's Coast Guard career continued to thrive. "I found myself invited frequently to address Army and Air Force ROTC students about the mission and responsibilities of the Coast Guard."

Nancy Seely military portrait.
Nancy Seely retired after serving more than 30 years in the Coast Guard Reserve.

Seely began to move up in the enlisted ranks and was assigned in 2009 to Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie. As her military career grew, so did the support she received at Michigan Tech. "Bill Kennedy (then director of what was known at the time as the Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development) and Mike Meyer (director of the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning) always supported my Coast Guard activities and allowed me the flexibility to adjust my work schedule when necessary. It was great to work for those who understood my efforts to balance two careers."

Seely retired as a command master chief. "I became a role model and mentor for other female members of the Coast Guard. It was most satisfying to watch women whom I worked with and counseled advance in their own careers."

She says what worked for her certainly would work for others. "For those interested in military service but not able to pursue their interest full time, I would highly recommend the reserves. I found myself doing so many things I had never imagined and working with great people in rewarding ways. For those working at Michigan Tech, it helps that the University has a strong reputation as a military-friendly institution.

The reputation of Michigan Tech as friendly to veterans is what attracts both those who come to learn and those who come to teach. As Archer puts it, "There are enough comrades here to provide mutual support, but not so many that it becomes oppressive. We can blend in here. Michigan Tech is a good place."

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.