The 12 soldiers are part of a pilot program for earning industry certifications.
Sgt. 1st Class Elvis Servellon, an infantry platoon sergeant, sits in the back of his vehicle alone after his unit's daily operations are completed. There, he is able to connect to Wi-Fi, conduct his reading and complete homework without being bothered for a couple of hours.
Servellon is one of a dozen U.S. soldiers stationed in Lithuania, piloting an educational initiative using Texas Tech University's new Industry Certificates program, offered through Texas Tech University Online.
Texas Tech is one of a select group of higher education institutions offering current students and those in the pilot program the opportunity to enhance their degrees or personal learning with an industry career certificate at no cost.
In the infantry, Servellon said they spend a large amount of time training in a variety of different arduous terrain, sometimes in a forest, sometimes a desert, but every time, they are far away from creature comforts like showers, plumbing and the internet.
“Since I'm in school, I decided to buy a portable Wi-Fi device to help me connect to the internet whenever possible,” he said. “Specifically, when I'm out in the field (as we call it), I sneak away at any opportunity to try and connect to the classroom. Running on little sleep, unknown timelines, and sporadic mission sets, it's nice when I can get away for a little bit and catch up on schoolwork.”
Texas Tech has partnered with industry leaders like Google, Meta, HubSpot and IBM to offer a curated suite of 30 high-demand industry career certificates, with more to be added in the future.
These certificates are flexible, accessible and highly recognized, which carries value for the certificate-holder when they enter the workforce and are able to display their credential. Certificates are online and self-paced and require no prerequisites or previous experience. Most can be completed in three to 12 months, with 10 or fewer hours of flexible study per week.
According to a 2022 study by Coursera, the open online course provider, 75% of Google Career Certificate graduates in the U.S. report an improvement in their career trajectory (e.g., new job or career, promotion or raise) within six months of certificate completion.
1st Lt. Chris Mitchell, infantry officer, leads a mechanized infantry platoon, which is made up of about 30 to 40 soldiers and four Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Mitchell said furthering one's education is one of three domains of learning that the Army strongly emphasizes, and there are plenty of areas he would like to improve himself with practical skills, both for his Army career and when he gets out.
“Although the infantry is a great job, it doesn't give you as many practical skills in the civilian world as you'd hope. Therefore, a professional credentialing program is perfect for setting myself up for success when I do re-enter the civilian world by giving me a specific, tangible skill that has the potential to directly translate into a civilian career,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also explained how enlisted soldiers accrue promotion points through various Army-related and unrelated activities. The points are a crucial part of the development of non-commissioned officers and furthering their careers in the Army.
“Completing professional credentials such as the ones offered in this program actually count towards promotion points for them,” Mitchell said. “Additionally, these courses are providing specific skills that my soldiers can use to help set themselves up for success in the civilian world. Too many times you read about veterans who get lost in the civilian world and are unable to secure a job. This program is an opportunity for my soldiers to avoid that and give them skills they can leverage to be successful, not only in the Army, but also, and more importantly, outside of the Army.”
As a deployed service member, Servellon said it's difficult to study in a traditional learning environment. Their schedules never adhere to any routine or designated pattern, so it's not really feasible to attend a “regular" course.
“Having the opportunity to learn online with no designated meet-up times allows me the flexibility to complete work at my own pace when I can carve away some time,” said Servellon, who is pursuing the Google Project Management certificate. “At my level, I'm kind of like a mini-project manager. There are goals we have to meet and it usually takes multiple sources working together to accomplish those goals. I figured I might as well benefit from this course and expand on what my skillset in the field already is.”
“Going to class isn't something they can do right now, but they still want to learn and improve their skills,” he said. “Our industry certificate program is an ideal solution, and in many ways can serve as a foundation for continued education at Texas Tech that these soldiers can build from when life circumstances allow, to take more courses and eventually complete their degrees.”
Luis Aburto and Justin Vela are both staff sergeants enrolled in the industry certification program cohort. They agree with the other soldiers about the convenience and flexibility the courses afford, but they also see other advantages.
Aburto points out something they don't get a lot of in the field, which is interaction with others interested in the same area of study.
“This online certification program provides a platform for interaction and networking with fellow learners,” he explained.
Also, his overall experience studying social media marketing while in the field has been a positive one, Aburto said, even if he chooses not to go with this career path.
“I have expanded my knowledge and learned new strategies to achieve marketing goals, increase brand awareness and engage with the targeted audience. This will also help me in my future business investments.”
Vela says he has always wanted to start college but has been worried about time management and being able to complete assignments with his work schedule and deployments since he joined the military.
“The soldiers' pilot program has really been a blessing, it was super-easy to enroll; they broke down every course making it a quick and efficient way to know what you wanted to do,” Vela said. “It's self-paced, which is a major plus. They give you assignment deadlines that are really only guidelines, but they help me manage my time and keep me driven.”
Texas Tech program administrators are seeking more ways to assist soldiers in expanding their knowledge and future endeavors. Still said the division is working on creating additional course offerings for them with all content created by Texas Tech faculty. These new self-paced courses would lead to college credit in subjects ranging from biology and political science to history and math.
As each individual soldier finds their own time and way to complete their chosen course path, Servellon's final thoughts seem to sum it up for the cohort of 12.
“Every day there are always opportunities to continue learning and growing, and I love this opportunity given to us. I want to keep developing myself as a person and as a leader, so this certification program fits right into my goals,” Servellon said.