Our Duty to Serve: Supporting Military Spouses

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

As more flexible options for higher education emerge, many military spouses eagerly tap into resources allowing them to pursue their college degree.  It is essential that faculty understand the challenges military spouses face and how they can best support their students’ goals of achieving academic, professional, and personal success.



Marsha earned her graduate degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University in 2000. A student services professional at heart, she jumped at the opportunity to teach first-term, online students Academic Success Strategies. This was in 2004 and she has been involved in distance education from that day forward. Since 2006, Marsha has worked at Kaplan University, Western Governors University, and also established an online corporate university for Signal 88 Security's Franchise Group. She is now a Faculty Training Specialist at the University of Maryland University College, a position she has held since 2015.

Additional Authors

Heather Brooks graduated with honors with a Bachelors of Science in Sociology from the University of Denver, a minor in Criminology; and a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. Her career foundation was as a police officer and detective in Virginia, where her specialty was in the area of cyber-crimes investigations and computer forensics. Heather became the first certified and court-recognized computer crimes investigator for the City of Suffolk in 2007, establishing the computer crimes division of the Investigation Department of the Suffolk Police Department. In that role, Heather participated in a variety of federal task forces, including Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, a premier National Crimes Against Children task force. Heather also applied her training in special victim crimes as an investigator and educator in sex crimes, domestic violence, and other crimes against children. Most recently, Heather worked for the Department of State with both the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) while stationed with her husband in Guyana, South America. As program manager for the INL program at the US Embassy, Heather developed and implemented security sector assistance programs in partnership with other stakeholders, including USAID and the Department of Defense. She served as the principle criminal justice advisor to the US Ambassador to Guyana and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat. Heather served as the law enforcement expert in policy development, program management, and citizen security efforts for the Department of State on the Caribbean Basic Security Intiative (CBSI); and for the US delegation to Guyana on the international law enforcement Dublin group, part of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes international cooperation efforts. Heather completed both of her degrees as an adult student, balancing her professional career, family, and transitions that come with being a military spouse. She is a board member on her local Crime Line board and volunteers her time teaching computer safety to local schools, businesses, and community groups. A proud Navy wife, she spends her free time with her four kids, training for half marathons (Disney races are her favorite!), and reading.

Extended Abstract

In study after study, military spouses have consistently been identified as unemployed and underemployed compared to their civilian counterparts.  Even though close to 85% of military spouse have attended college at some point, only 1 in 4 have completed a bachelor's program. Additionally, 26% of military spouses are unemployed and actively seeking work (Institute for Veterans & Military Families, 2014).  Why is spouse employability such an important issue?  According to the 2015 Military Lifestyle Survey, military families with employed spouses experienced greater financial security, better mental health, and higher satisfaction with the military lifestyle.  Education and employment of military spouses can have a positive impact on their entire family, as well as our local and global community.


As this unique student population increases, what do faculty need to know about military spouses?  How can this new knowledge be applied to help military spouses achieve academic, professional, and personal success?


During this interactive panel, attendees will be presented with opportunities to ask questions to two military spouses and one faculty training specialist.  First-hand accounts of life as an online student and military spouse will be shared, accompanied with meaningful bites of the latest related research and faculty training practices.  


The panelists will share their personal insights and expertise surrounding the numerous challenges and opportunities unique to military spouses.  Some of these challenges include deployments, relocation, employability, and financial stress.  With so many spouses encountering similar challenges, there is also potential for an amazing amount of support and camaraderie within the military community.  Faculty can encourage students to tap into this network to form study groups, identify accountability partners, locate tutors, and initiate a child-care exchange.  


When a student self-identifies as being a military spouse, the response from the faculty member could make all the difference.  Acknowledgement, appreciation, and encouragement, as well as a baseline knowledge of the armed forces can demonstrate to military spouses that faculty are aware of and open to communicating about their situation.


Student engagement and motivation can fluctuate throughout a term as the military family works through various transitions.  Faculty can initiate specialized outreach, meet with students to modify the course schedule, or direct students to numerous resources available to support military spouses.  They can also nominate outstanding students for awards, scholarships, or help them identify flexible internship or practicum opportunities.


The Department of Defense and the White House have made spouse education and employment programs top priorities in recent years, evidenced by a variety of new tools, resources, and programs. Some of these programs include MyCAA and the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities LearningCounts initiative.  Faculty do not need to be experts in this area, but having some basic knowledge of program assistance specifically for military spouses within their individual organization is essential.  Faculty should know to ask, “Have you spoken to the Military representative/office on your base to see what opportunities and resources might be available to help you?”


Military spouses are integral to the support and foundation of mission success within our military branches.  Through this presentation, attendees will be further prepared to provide this unique population with specialized support often necessary to achieve academic, professional, and personal success.




Attendees of this session will be able to:

  • Identify the challenges and opportunities unique to military spouses

  • Discuss the faculty role in supporting this population

  • Describe engagement techniques and related best practices regarding retention and progression

  • Incorporate external tools and resources available to support military spouses.


Blue Star Families’ Military Family Lifestyle Survey (2015).  Retrieved May, 2016, from http://vets.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/BSF_ExecutiveSummary.pdf

Maury, R., & Stone, B. (2014, February). Military Spouse Employment Reports. Retrieved May, 2016, from http://vets.syr.edu/wp-     content/uploads/2014/02/MilitarySpouseEmploymentReport_2013.pdf