Syracuse University Magazine

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Captain Michael Stephens

Balancing Service and Studies

U.S. Army Captain Michael Stephens G’12 has never been to Syracuse, nor has he set foot on the SU campus. He hopes to do so someday, perhaps when he receives a master’s degree in information management from the School of Information Studies (iSchool) in 2012. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Stephens is a paratrooper and automations officer for the 1st Brigade 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. “I had hoped to take a course on campus this summer, but with the training my unit has coming up, it just couldn’t happen,” he says. “I like technology and information management, and the i­School [online]  program fits what I do in the military. I’m already using what I’ve learned in the courses.”
As automations officer, Stephens oversees a wide range of technologies that serves the brigade’s 4,000 paratroopers, including running the main control server, providing e-mail services, ensuring firewall protection for the servers, and operating Army battle command systems. When Stephens started the master’s program in fall 2009, he was deployed in Ramadi, Iraq. “I couldn’t keep going in the second and third semesters because of mission concerns and because I had to take on additional duty,” says Stephens, the first recipient of the SU/Army Scholarship awarded by the iSchool.
Stephens enrolled in the iSchool program through the University’s partnership with the U.S. Army Signal Center School of Information Technology at Ft. Gordon (SIGCEN) in Augusta, Georgia. In 2009, SU and SIGCEN established a formal agreement that enables soldiers who have completed information systems management and/or telecommunication engineering courses at SIGCEN to transfer up to 15 credits toward a master’s degree in information management (ischool/syr.edu/signalcenter). Stationed all over the world, they take classes exclusively online and are not required to attend on-campus residency courses. Stephens notes the online classes are especially useful for someone in the service. “I was one of the first people to have this master’s program as an option and was pretty excited about it,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed all my courses and the instructors have been very helpful. I like the environment of online classes. That I could take a class while deployed was awesome—I was in a completely different time zone from most of the other students and had to get up in the middle of the night to do group projects. I was working 18-hour days while I was in Iraq.”
When Stephens’s obligation to the military ends in June 2012, he’ll have a big decision to make—whether to stay in the service for the full 20 years, or to look for a job in the civilian sector. “Either way, the iSchool degree is going to help me,” he says. “If I go civilian, I can get a good job in IT; if I stay in, a master’s degree will make me eligible for jobs with more responsibility. It’s a win-win situation.”     —Paula Meseroll