Plainview man keeping online classes going while overseas on deployment 

March 16, 2010   

Online education has proven a boon for many schools, including Wayland, with many students finding the accessibility and flexibility of course work and discussions the perfect fit with jobs and other life responsibilities. But one aspect not normally focused on is the flexibility of online education for faculty members, who also have options of completing their course responsibilities from the comfort of home and in hours outside the regular office schedule.

Michael Keller, a 1987 MBA graduate of Wayland, Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award winner for 2009 and husband to art professor Dr. Candace Keller, is learning that first-hand – with an added twist – as he teaches classes adjunctly for his employer, Texas Tech University, while on deployment to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait with the U.S. Army Reserves. 

Keller, whose civilian job is Program Director and Assistant Professor in the Clinical Services Management program at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, is also a colonel in the 321st Civil Affairs Brigade based in San Antonio. Over the past years of Keller’s involvement in the Army Reserves, he’s been deployed to six nations. Currently, he’s serving as commander of the Civil Military Operations Center for the camp, arriving in San Antonio and then to Fort Dix, N.J., in late October 2009 before shipping to Kuwait with his team. In that role, Keller is overseeing the mission to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Coalition Operations in the countries.

Keller’s unit receives 40-foot containers from non-governmental organizations in the U.S., packed with goods including school supplies, medical supplies and equipment, shoes, clothing, sports equipments, blankets and tents. He expects to be overseas until around October 2010.

Just as Keller was shipping out to San Antonio, midterms at Tech were hitting, so his online classes had to continue as with as much consistency as was possible. He said the only hitch came during training at Fort Dix.

“The training schedule was intense and at times unpredictable. This was complicated with slow Internet speeds that slowed my work in the virtual classroom,” Keller said. “I am able to deal with the classes that I teach due to the great support of the staff and faculty back in Texas and due to having good Internet connectivity here in Kuwait.”

Though a world away from Tech, he started four additional classes in the spring term online as well, teaching two graduate courses and two undergraduate courses in the areas of healthcare administration and human resource management as well as a special topics/research class. In the past, Keller has taught adjunctly for Wayland in the healthcare, marketing, finance and hospital administration areas.

Though it may be a totally different situation than normal, Keller said there are benefits to the arrangement from his side of the desk as well. For one, he is able to empathize more with students who are deployed during school terms and must complete work online and increasing his own cultural awareness.

“I see this opportunity as a chance to demonstrate that distance education allows not just the student to be anywhere in the world, but also the teacher,” Keller said, adding, “I have not told any of my students that I am overseas in the hopes that I might better evaluate the outcome of this experience.”

Keller noted that deployments are difficult for families, employers and the military personnel themselves but can be successful when good training and support from all sides are present. He is fortunate, he noted, to have all of that.

“My wife Candace has given solid support and encouragement throughout my military career. Without her I would not have gotten to where I am in the Army,” noted Keller. “The employer support from Texas Tech is tremendous, and is something that reservists do not take for granted. The support that I have allows me to focus on my military duties and responsibilities without any concern about returning to my job and teaching career. This gives me great peace of mind and reinforces my loyalty to the people that I work with and the institution.”

Keller was the 2009 Distinguished Leadership Alumni Award winner at Wayland. He and wife Candace have a grown daughter, Meredith.