Faculty Focus: Majella Stevenson
Military Missions in the Middle East by Day; Math by Night Adjunct Faculty Member Majella Stevenson Shares Her Story
Majella Stevenson , Faculty
School probably isn’t the first thing soldiers think of when they go on deployment to the Middle East. However, a recent education contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) may change that for U.S. soldiers. The contract made UMUC the first American university to offer on-the-ground undergraduate classes to servicemembers stationed in Iraq. Among these committed UMUC faculty is U.S. Naval officer and adjunct professor Majella Stevenson.
Majella, a Navy civil engineer officer of 19 years, arrived on deployment to Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar and was thrilled to learn of the educational opportunity. "Without programs like the one UMUC offers in the Middle East, the frequency and duration of deployments would mean that servicemembers might have to delay working toward their degrees for years at a time," says Majella.
Eager to participate in the academic setting, Majella volunteered her educational background in chemical and industrial engineering to tutor students in math and statistics. When a math teacher fell ill midway through the fall semester, Majella stepped up. "I took over teaching the rest of the math class and enjoyed it so much that I asked the UMUC representative if I could teach again," recalls Majella.
"Teaching in the evenings while maintaining a grueling full-time deployment schedule of working seven days a week for 12 hours per day is demanding," admits Majella. However, she says her reward is seeing her students "gain confidence and even learn to enjoy math."
Despite the many challenges her students face, such as being away from family and completing long, exhausting missions in temperatures of over 100 degrees, Majella says her students are dedicated to attending class. For most, it is a welcomed break that brings them one step closer to earning their degrees.
"The ability to take classes while on deployment is extremely important," Majella says. "While there is a lot of work to do, the freedom from family responsibilities can actually make it an ideal time to work on your studies!”
While the opportunity to attend college during deployment is a benefit for the troops, it takes a special commitment from the faculty members. To accommodate students who are often pulled away from class on military assignment, Majella provides two-hour tutoring sessions three times a week to help them get caught up. She is proud to say that all of her students have passed.
"Working with the uniformed military students was more rewarding than I ever anticipated," says Majella. And, although her deployment will end next month, she says that she hopes to have another opportunity to be a part of the educational journey again.
Majella is looking forward to returning home to Hawaii to complete her career with the U.S. Navy and, most of all, spending time with her two daughters and husband of 20 years.