by Dr. Laura Ott, Guest Contributor
I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say military spouses are incredibly motivated go-getters, who want to positively influence the community around them. Well my fellow comrades-in-arms, I am here to (finally!) share data that demonstrate what we have already known for a quite a while.
Many of you may remember my post from 2015, asking for participation in a research study exploring the educational and career needs and desires of military spouse students. After months (ok, let’s be honest…years) of analyzing the data (hello, side hustle), my collaborators and I are excited to share initial findings from our study.
We recently published a manuscript titled “Impact of Military Lifestyle on Military Spouses’ Educational and Career Goals” in the Journal of Research in Education. While we encourage you to read the paper (warning — it’s long!), I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight our key findings.
Published Study Reveals the Educational and Career Goals of Military Spouse Students
First, military spouses primarily desire careers in health care, business, mental health and counseling, and education. Interestingly, these are all career fields that the Department of Defense recommended as portable options for military spouses to pursue in the 2009 Report of the 2nd Quadrennial Quality of Life Review. I think this also implies the importance of developing or expanding programs to help spouses in these fields find success, whether they be flexible accredited educational programs, experiential learning opportunities, or informal job training experiences.
Second, we military spouses desire advanced, graduate-level degrees. While most of the survey respondents were enrolled in associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree programs, most spouses ultimately desired a master’s degree or higher.
As someone who has completed an advanced graduate degree herself (and knows the associated pains…the struggle is real), this not only demonstrates the importance that we place on our education, but our drive to receive high levels of training to be the best in our fields.
Furthermore, this highlights the need for new programming (or expansion of existing) to support military spouses beyond the associate’s degree, licensure or certification levels. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if spouses could receive financial support for all levels of education? I hope that these data provide an opportunity to start a conversation on how to make this happen.
Finally, military spouses are pursuing careers because of genuine interest in the field and not the military lifestyle. We all know that the military lifestyle can be demanding and make it difficult to advance our education and career.
However, the military lifestyle isn’t going to stop us — we want careers that interest us and allow us to make meaningful contributions to our communities.
Short story, we are awesome, we are driven, we are smart, and we won’t let the military lifestyle hold us down. We also have some superhero organizations advocating for us, such as Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network, National Military Family Association, Blue Star Families, Military Officers Association of America and National Military Spouse Network.
So, what’s next?
We have more data that were collected from the 2015 study to analyze that will hopefully address the educational environments and resources that military spouses are using and/or find useful. Hopefully we can share these results soon.
I also think it’s time for both the DoD and institutions of higher education to explore additional options for supporting our modern day, military spouse students.
I know some work has been started (thanks superheroes!) and I hope our work can help further the conversation.
Finally, because this establishes the sheer awesomeness of military spouses, it’s time to celebrate! We have a lot of demands on our lives — personally, academically and professionally — and we tackle them all with grit, resiliency and persistence.
Not many people can say they aced their chemistry exam while also managing the homefront (and perhaps a part-time job) when our service members are deployed.
Dr. Laura Ott is the Director of the Science Education Research Unit at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and an Army wife stationed in the National Capital Region. She has a Ph.D. in immunology and while trained as a biomedical scientist, she has spent the past six years as a STEM educator and researcher. She specializes in pedagogical research and STEM student success initiatives. Furthermore, she is extremely passionate about assisting military-connected individuals in obtaining their educational and career goals. In her free time, she enjoys pretending to be a celebrity chef in her kitchen and spending time with her husband and two children. She can be reached at leott(at)umbc.edu.