When Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jason Perry entered the Marine Corps University Command and Staff College in 2017, he felt a little out of place.
He had an associate degree in criminal justice, but he quickly learned he was one of only a few people who didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.
“I felt I was at a disadvantage when comparing myself to those other students who had earned degrees through traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ schools,” he said. “Although I was a distinguished graduate of Command and Staff College, I decided that I needed to earn my degree from a phenomenal school that would challenge me academically.”
He decided a leadership degree would enhance his military career, and a partnership between the University of Oklahoma and Marine Corps University led him to the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies.
“The caliber of instructors is, without a doubt, phenomenal. They always went out of their way to lend a hand and offer their assistance, regardless of their own competing demands."
Although he lives in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., Perry was able to study 100% online while also tending to his duties as a full-time Marine officer, husband and father. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from PACS in December 2019, serving as the college’s Banner Carrier at convocation.
Perry found the Organizational Leadership program and online format so accommodating, he stayed with OU and will graduate this December with his master’s degree in Organizational Leadership (MAOL).
In addition to the flexible format, the program highlighted aspects of leadership that he uses every day. Through a lot of self-reflection, Perry was able to take an interdisciplinary approach to complex problem-solving and apply it to his military role. He said benefits gained through his studies at OU are implemented in every function of his profession.
As an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Occupational Field Sponsor at Headquarters Marine Corps, Perry uses the interdisciplinary knowledge and critical-thinking skills he’s gained at OU to advance national-level security issues and work through the strategic challenges he faces daily.
“From dialog with senior leaders to mentoring junior marines, I can’t think of a day that some aspect of my degree hasn’t been used,” he said.
He said that was all made easier due to the quality of instructors in both his undergraduate and graduate programs. The instructors, as well as his advisor, LaDawn Jones, offered unwavering support, making his path to graduation seamless.
“The caliber of instructors is, without a doubt, phenomenal. They always went out of their way to lend a hand and offer their assistance, regardless of their own competing demands. More specifically, I believe that Dr. Carla Winters and Dr. Ruby Daniels are deserving of attention. In both cases, they far exceeded expectations, offering candid advice and recommendations regardless of the hour. I owe much of my accomplishments to their sage advice,” he said. “I have many peers attending other schools and hear about their experiences. In many cases, they discuss instructors that leave too little or no feedback, provide no words of encouragement and have little practical experience.”
While Perry didn’t focus as much on the backgrounds of his professors as an undergraduate, it was certainly a priority when he began his graduate program. Once he was admitted into the MAOL program, he focused carefully when choosing instructors, opting for the ones who had the broadest range of experience.
“Each instructor that I’ve had not only illustrates an academic understanding of the material but also sprinkles in practical examples throughout the course," Perry said. "I’ve actively sought out professors who do not have military backgrounds to gain a richer understanding of leadership outside of my own military profession. They are constantly pushing the students to achieve their greatest potential.”
Perry also applies the skills he’s learned at PACS in his new role as a member of the board of advisors for the United States Bomb Technician Association, a nonprofit organization that connects the military and civilian bomb squad communities through collaboration and interoperability.
Perry said during the USBTA interview process, many of the topics addressed reflected key components of a nonprofit class he took as an undergraduate. His knowledge of how nonprofits worked, along with his understanding of branding, marketing and strategic positioning of nonprofits, helped him just as much as his military background.
“Had I not had exposure to the nonprofit class, as well as so many other classes, I’m not sure I would have been selected to serve on the board,” Perry said. “At a more granular level, learning the knowledge, skills and attributes required of change leaders has allowed me to lead by subculture as it aligns with the broader culture of the Marine Corps.”
Perry said he plans to retire from the military in October of next year, but that won’t change the passion for leading he found while attending PACS.
“I know it may sound cliché, but I want to make a difference. Having almost completed my MAOL, I now feel I have a greater potential to make that difference and lead outside the military. I’ve considered pursing a doctoral program, potentially teaching at the collegiate level, or shifting to the private sector. With my practical experiences as a follower and a leader, coupled with my academic understanding of organizational leadership, I believe I can either help mold our future leaders in an academic setting or shape the current leaders within a high-performing organization.”
Want to hear stories from students in our Organizational Leadership program? Visit pacs.ou.edu/blog/tag/leadership for more.