Thursday, March 25, 2010

Naval Academy Grad Discusses VGEP

As a participant in the Voluntary Graduate Education Program (VGEP) offered at the Naval Academy, I wanted to share my experience to provide interested midshipmen, parents and alumni with a personal perspective on the program. This article should help to outline the requirements of VGEP, provide personal insight from recent VGEP participants, and note a few advantages and challenges of the program.

Each year VGEP sends 20 midshipmen to nearby civilian universities to earn a Master’s degree before joining the Fleet. Students begin their graduate studies in the spring semester of their first-class year. As a part of their graduate work, participants will complete a spring semester, take a few summer courses and finish up their degrees by the end of the following fall semester. The program lasts just under 12 months, seven of which take place after graduation from the Naval Academy. On rare occasions, midshipmen start VGEP in the fall semester of the first-class year, allowing them to finish earlier.

Many disciplines at the Naval Academy can send midshipmen through VGEP. The particular ability of midshipmen to participate in VGEP can depend on the needs of the Navy, which subsidizes only certain advanced degree programs, and on the availability of courses at local universities. The Navy pays for a large part of the academic costs. Fees above the Navy’s allotment fall to students.

Interested midshipmen must take several steps to become qualified for this program. First, midshipmen must work 15 credits ahead in their academic matrices through course validation, summer school or taking extra credits during the semester. Working ahead allows prospective participants to complete nearly all of the Naval Academy’s academic requirements one semester ahead of their classmates.

Secondly, acceptance into VGEP requires a minimum GPA of 3.2. Midshipmen with a GPA of 3.4 or higher are typically competitive candidates.

Lastly, interested midshipmen should speak with their academic advisor to learn of VGEP informational meetings and program points of contact in their departments and to assess their academic progress.

VGEP is a quick but challenging route to take toward a Masters degree. Marine 2nd Lt. Mark Infante, who graduated in 2009, studied aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland. He found that he was well prepared to enter graduate school coming from the academy.

‘‘I thought there was far less homework in terms of quantity, but the work itself was a whole lot harder,” said Infante.

Fortunately, school is not the only part of the VGEP experience. Participants feel as if they are re-entering the civilian world as they search for the right apartment, hit the town after class, or fumble over their burning Hamburger Helper. However, living outside of Bancroft Hall is not the only aspect of a civilian educational experience.

‘‘Going from the military mindset of a USNA classroom to the forum of a Georgetown seminar was a culture shock, but one that ultimately broadened my perceptions and increased my awareness of the normal perspectives of our generation,” said 2nd Lt. Benjamin Gallo, also a 2009 graduate.

At first glance VGEP seems like a great deal, and it is, but midshipmen should weigh the decision to participate in VGEP with care. The pursuit of a graduate degree is worthwhile, but it delays warfare training and getting out to the Fleet. Since my graduation from the Naval Academy my roommates have already deployed and returned, my fellow second lieutenants have completed The Basic School (TBS).

Because of my participation in this program, I will enter TBS 10 months later than most of my counterparts. Prospective VGEP participants must understand that they may feel at times as if they are treading water while their Naval Academy classmates are already serving in the Fleet.

The bottom line is that VGEP is challenging, but also worthwhile. VGEP participants have a rare opportunity to knock out a quick graduate degree while having a little fun before they report to their units for service.