Kennedy-Orr Used BIS Program to Weave Military Experience into College Credit

Military police officer and Department of Defense body guard chose interdisciplinary concentration in criminal psychology.

by B.J. Koubaroulis

Kennedy-Orr Used BIS Program to Weave Military Experience into College Credit

Susan Kennedy-Orr, a military police officer who became a bodyguard for Department of Defense officials, was able to apply her military experience as she pursued a bachelor's degree of individualized studies at George Mason University. The college recently caught up with Kennedy-Orr. Here’s what she had to say:

Please describe your experience in the military.

I was born and raised in Rock Island, IL, and had never traveled outside of Illinois and Iowa until I joined the military nearly 13 years ago. I joined the U.S. Army as a junior in high school and left for basic training in 1996, directly after graduation. 

I originally worked as a Corrections Specialist (prison guard) at Fort Knox, KY, then re-classed my military occupational specialty to become a military police officer. I worked as a regular patrol officer and then as a military police investigator examining misdemeanor crimes in Camp Casey, South Korea.

In 2001, I was selected to become a special agent for the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and investigated felony level crimes at Fort Hood, Texas.  In 2004, I was selected to join the Protective Services Division to serve as a protection specialist (bodyguard) for senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials. Since then, I have traveled the world, interacting with many different cultures in an official capacity. 

Please explain how your education at Mason and military experience has been woven together.

The military kept me very busy, and although I worked hard to complete a handful of college courses while performing my military duties, I had very little time to attend college. The Army has a wonderful program called the Degree Completion Program (DCP) available to officers and warrant officers. If selected, the officer is temporarily released from most of his/her military obligations to attend college as a full-time student to complete a degree of choice as long as it has something to do with their military occupational specialty. My supervisors pressed me to apply for the DCP, endorsed my applications with their personal recommendations, and I was honored to be selected to participate in the program.  

I was allowed 18 months to complete a degree. I applied to several universities and quickly realized that the traditional degree programs associated with law enforcement did not recognize my military experience and training in lieu of college credit. This was frustrating because much of the subject matter being covered in the courses concerned activities within my profession that I had actually been doing for the past 12 years. 

That’s when I discovered the bachelor's degree of individualized studies (BIS) program at Mason.  Under the guidance of the BIS department, I carefully selected courses from the disciplines of both criminal justice and psychology and then integrated them to support my interdisciplinary concentration:  criminal psychology. The BIS program recognized my military experience and supported my goal to achieve a degree. Without the BIS program, I would not have been able to achieve this milestone while satisfying the requirements for the DCP.

What were your expectations coming to Mason?

I guess I expected all of the classes to be in huge lecture halls (like you often see on television), with a professor on a stage lecturing too quickly and students furiously taking notes and trying to keep up.  While some classes did resemble this, I found that most were much more personable, with professors who engaged the students and sparked interesting discussions and debates. 

I was definitely nervous coming to Mason as this was my first time attending a real university instead of a college course offered on a military installation.  Just as the military has its own acronyms and ways of operating that seem foreign to those who are not in the military, Mason has the same.  I felt a little like a “fish out of water,” but luckily had many people to point me in the right direction, and before long I felt right at home. 

What are you doing now? Plans for the future?

I am finishing up my last couple of humanities courses now and will return to my military duties at the conclusion of the summer semester. I have agreed to take a position in the policy branch of Criminal Investigations Division Headquarters for the next year, and then I will most likely return to Fort Hood where my husband (also in the military) has been selected to take command of a battalion while I continue to investigate felony crimes.

What was the most valuable experience you had at Mason?

By far, my most treasured experience has been the opportunity to engage with the young, bright students at Mason. After being in the military for nearly 13 years and being almost totally immersed in the military culture, it was absolutely refreshing to hear the thoughts and convictions of the young people who are about to become tomorrow’s work force. To engage in lengthy discussions and debates concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the events at Abu Ghraib, the status of our military, and the way our nation and government address foreign and domestic issues, has been an enlightening experience and has introduced some new perspectives which I will carry with me as I return to the military. I feel this experience has helped me to become a better leader and a more well rounded person in general. I’ll never forget it.