Being submerged on a nuclear-powered submarine might seem like an unlikely place to earn a master’s degree, but College of Liberal Studies graduate David Plouffe did just that. After becoming the first University of Oklahoma graduate student to complete his degree through the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE), a program that gives sailors the opportunity to continue their personal and professional growth through education, Plouffe left his post on the USS Toledo (SSN 769) and pursued a second career in teaching.
After retirement, Plouffe entered civil service as a learning standards officer at the Submarine Learning Center in Groton, Connecticut. While there, he said he used his degree to help him develop many submarine-related courses. He also received a graduate certificate in training and development from Northcentral University.
After his work at the Submarine Learning Center, Plouffe began a career in curriculum development for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Leadership Development Center (LDC), developing all Coast Guard-enlisted leadership courses while also earning a graduate certificate in homeland security from American Public University.
“I needed to tap into the diversity and different viewpoints that only a liberal arts education can provide.
“The MLS degree was particularly helpful while I was working with the Coast Guard,” Plouffe said. “The Coast Guard is a unique agency that is extremely diverse. I needed to tap into the diversity and different viewpoints that only a liberal arts education can provide.”
Plouffe is now working as a training specialist at the Naval War College’s Naval Leadership and Ethics Center in Newport, Rhode Island. He oversees the delivery of a unique curriculum to the major commands, commanding officers, executive officers and command master chiefs. The curriculum explores many different types of ethical scenarios naval leaders might face and includes individual coaching sessions. Even in these courses, Plouffe is reminded of his time at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s interesting that in a small command like mine, there are three OU graduates!” he said. “But I’m the only one who can say I earned mine while underwater!”
Even with the demands of his full-time job, Plouffe still finds time to share his love of learning by working as an adjunct instructor at two other colleges. He teaches in the workforce education and development program for Southern Illinois University and in the leadership and management department for Goodwin College.
“I know it seems like a lot, but one of the things I have learned from my liberal arts background is that I need the exchange of ideas,” he said. “I find that teaching at other colleges, away from the military, helps me see issues through a different lens. It opens my eyes to new ideas and challenges that I might not have seen otherwise.”
Plouffe’s only regret is that he never got to walk in convocation or visit the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus. “When I graduated from OU, I was underway on the submarine, so I wasn’t able to go to graduation. Hopefully I will be able to visit soon.”
Note: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.