Whitman Adapts Quickly to Address Army Training Needs
In March, the 27 military and civilian students in the Defense Comptrollership Program’s (DCP) 2020 class adjusted as easily as did the Whitman School of Management faculty to the loss of in-person learning on campus. And the switch to online learning also allowed the Defense Programs Office to shift its short courses to an online format.
The DCP class of 2021 began its summer 2020 semester taking all classes online. The first online short course was held the first two weeks of August.
“We were very impressed with how quickly the DCP students adapted to an online mode of instruction and displayed tremendous resiliency in dealing with the challenges both from learning online and working from home,” says Irma P. Finocchiaro ’91 MBA, director of defense programs at Whitman.
Since 1952, the DCP — Syracuse University’s collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) — has trained financial managers to handle multibillion-dollar resources for the DoD. DCP 2020 is the 68th graduating class; over 2,000 military and civilian students have graduated.
The rigorous, 14-month program results in two master’s degrees, an MBA from the Whitman School and an executive master’s of public administration (EMPA) from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Students take 42 credits at Whitman and 18 credits at Maxwell. Active and reserve military officers comprise up to two-thirds of the class. The others are civilian members of the comptroller profession from the Army, defense agencies and other services.
In 2019, the Army added a requirement to the DCP program for a concentration in data analytics. “The amount of data available for analysis and the need to capture and use the data for decision making drove the requirement for this change,” says Fran Machina ’90 MBA, associate director of the defense programs. This requirement gives graduates an MBA with a concentration in business analytics. (Like Finocchiaro, Machina is a DCP graduate.)
Moving courses online was straightforward, according to Machina. “We relied on the capability and ingenuity of the professional faculty at Whitman. The individual professors for each course designed their online presence and worked closely with our DCP students to develop successful virtual classes. The Whitman IT department also played a key role in supporting the professors and students,” he says.
We were very impressed with how quickly the DCP students adapted to an online mode of instruction and displayed tremendous resiliency in dealing with the challenges both from learning online and working from home.” -Irma P. Finocchiaro ’91 MBA
In March, like all University students, the DCP 2020 class went home. Since then, all instruction has been online. In the spring semester, DCP 2020 students took five classes for 7.5 credits both before and after the pandemic disrupted on-campus learning. They completed their studies in their second, shorter summer semester, taking four classes for 12 credits, including the MBA and EMPA capstone projects.
For the DCP 2021 class of 28 students, their first summer semester is virtual, as they take seven classes for 15 credits. DCP opens with a 12-week summer semester, followed by fall and spring semesters, concluding with a second summer semester of approximately nine weeks.
The Defense Programs Office at the Whitman School also runs executive education training courses, referred to colloquially as “short courses, for Army personnel in resource management. Students from various Army installations across the United States and the world have gathered on campus for the courses, housed in one hotel to facilitate networking and group projects. However, the pandemic’s restrictions on large gatherings necessitated a move to online learning, says Machina.
The primary short courses — the Army Comptroller Course (ACC) and the Executive Comptroller Course (ECC) — are three-week programs for Army personnel and civilian employees. The ACC is for more junior personnel; the ECC is targeted to more experienced personnel, he says.
The ACC provides a financial and resource management overview to Defense Department civilian and military personnel newly assigned to the comptroller career field and to other personnel lacking a multi-disciplined background. The ECC provides mid-level military and civilian resource/financial managers a perspective of the core competencies of defense financial management. The primary methods of instruction are lecture, practical exercises, group projects and guest speakers.
ACC programs are scheduled in November, April, and July, with ECC offerings planned in January and July.
Adjusting to the pandemic’s impact was easier for DCP than the short courses.
“There was no need to create something entirely new online for DCP,” says Finocchiaro. “The classes only had to move to the online format.”
For the short courses, “we had to adjust our practical exercises and develop new modules to be more effective in the online environment,” Machina says.
The lessons learned, he adds, are about adaptability, he says, “We found that flexibility is the key to live online instruction. Hardware, software and connectivity issues can’t always be anticipated, and you have to be prepared to adjust on the fly.”
Virtual Graduation Highlighted Class of 2020 Accomplishments
The hardest aspect of the DCP transition to an online format was the loss of the annual graduation ceremony on campus in late July.
“Having the students send their families a hyperlink to remotely view their virtual graduation ceremony rather than making arrangements for them to visit Syracuse and attend in person” was disappointing, says Irma P. Finocchiaro ’91 MBA, Whitman’s director of defense programs.
On-campus graduation usually fills the 200 seats in Lender Auditorium, with a few people standing, Finocchiaro says. This year’s virtual ceremony attracted about 230 from across the country, many from around the Pentagon and Washington, D.C.
A special attendee was Shawn Lennon ’11 MBA, a DCP graduate and longtime Army civilian employee at the Pentagon, who received the Leonard F. Keenan Memorial Award for Distinguished Service. As director of the Army Working Capital Fund audit readiness, Lennon is responsible for annual audits of Army Working Capital Fund financial statements.
Lennon is a DCP dual award winner, receiving the Lt. Col Thomas Belkofer Award for Academic Excellence for achieving the highest GPA in the class when he graduated in 2011. Belkofer MBA ’02, a DCP graduate, was killed in action May 18, 2010, in Kabul, Afghanistan, when a suicide bomber attacked his convoy. He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.
The Class of 2020 graduated with an average GPA of 3.7, passed the examinations to become Certified Defense Financial Managers and completed over 700 hours of volunteer service in Syracuse and surrounding communities, says Finocchiaro, herself a winner of the Keenan Award in 2008, when she was the U.S. Army Europe's deputy chief of staff for resource management. Keenan was a former deputy comptroller of the Army credited with improving professionalism and development of career Army comptrollers.