Graduate, Master of Defense and Strategic Studies
Matthew Graham, originally from Riverside, California, is currently a U.S. Army Officer at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS.
In 2010, he was commissioned as an Armor Officer from the Virginia Military Institute with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. He fell in love with El Paso when he was assigned to Fort Bliss, TX as his first duty station. Once in El Paso, he discovered many of the programs at UTEP. He saw UTEP as an opportunity to advance his educational goals in an affordable way.
Following his return from Afghanistan, he enrolled at UTEP as a graduate student in Spring 2014. He began in the Master of Intelligence and National Security program because he wanted the in-class experience; however, when he had to leave El Paso, he transferred to the Defense and Strategic Studies program.
Matthew’s interests include rock climbing, hiking, camping and spending time with his family.
Why he enrolled in the program:
Transferring into the Defense and Strategic Studies program was an excellent choice. The program’s wide-ranging survey of regional security challenges across multiple geographic areas and domains gave me a breadth and depth of knowledge on par with, and in most cases superior to, my peers.
His experience with online learning:
This was my first experience with dedicated online learning. My undergraduate program was all in person. It took a while to get accustomed to online learning. Success in an online program takes discipline, clear communication and effective time management. There is no one pushing you, especially at the graduate level, to do the readings, study, ask questions, and engage with your peers. As with most education, you get out of it what you put in it. The advantage of online learning was that I had the flexibility to schedule my [study] time around my work schedule. I was also fortunate to have senior leaders who supported me throughout my degree program.
I hope to expand my opportunities for future career advancement and advanced education within the Army with this degree.
On how this degree has helped him in his job:
I credit my Master of Defense and Strategic Studies (MDSS) with giving me opportunities that my previous academic performance would not have provided. My MDSS degree helped in my selection for Resident Command and General Staff College and the Advanced Military Studies Program at the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS).
On the support he received as an online student:
[I received a 100% of the support I needed]. The former program director, Dr. Larry Valero, and the current director, Dr. Paul Ashby, were some of the most supportive and encouraging senior faculty I have ever met. The staff for the department is small, and Dr. Ashby worked day and night to help program my schedule, ensure I got the support I needed during the admissions process, and mentor me through the program. The program staff and faculty are excellent.
The Military Student Success Center was also very supportive and helpful in filing for VA tuition and helping me resolve any issues.
On whether he would enroll in this program again if he had to do things over:
Yes. The education I received directly benefited me professionally and enriched my understanding of the challenges facing the U.S. in the contemporary security environment. So, if you are a military or intelligence professional or just looking to continue your education, enhance your understanding of the world, and receive a high-quality education at an affordable price from a well-known university, this program is for you.
What he would say to prospective online students:
This program will equip you with a breadth and depth of knowledge of contemporary security issues facing the U.S. lacking in other schooling. From each of the courses focused on a geographic area to the deep dives into U.S. national security strategy and structure to the classes on cyber, information, and strategic communication, you will emerge with a detailed and nuanced understanding of the policies, opportunities, and challenges U.S. national security faces in the present and near future.
I would recommend that prospective students have a general knowledge of history and an undergraduate background in political science, international studies, or a similar field. They should also be aware of the flexibility the program provides. I started this program in 2014 and didn’t finish until 2021. I could take classes depending on my work schedule each semester.
This program does not include a master’s thesis. However, that was a benefit, given that I was a full-time professional and completed this degree while balancing work and family commitments.
For those in the military, UTEP online degrees are just like in-person degrees and reflect as such on your transcripts and personnel records.