Recently Colonel Mark Thompson, U.S. Army, celebrated a proud parent moment as his youngest daughter, Gabby, walked across the commencement stage to accept her undergraduate degree in Communications from Abilene Christian University.
Then, he got ready to get his degree.
Later that day, he received his fourth degree, a Master’s of Business Administration from ACU’s online MBA program. Which can make one wonder, how much education can one person handle?
“I know,” he says laughing, “that’s what my family says, too.”
Many people would say going for a fourth college degree makes you an overachiever. For Mark, it’s just the next step in an ongoing process to fulfill his goals – personal and professional. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Mark would go on to earn his medical degree from the University of Michigan as well as his master’s in strategic studies from the United States Army War College.
For Mark, that was just the tip of the iceberg that saw him marry, raise three daughters with his wife of 28 years, and move to more than 10 duty stations with stops in Hawaii, Texas and Virginia to his current post as the Principle Medical Advisor to the Commanding General at the Training and Doctrine Command center.
But he might tell you that raising three girls — Emelia, Abagail and Gabby, all of whom would go to college and earn a degree — is near the top of his list of achievements.
“Yeah, well, I think I had a great partner in that,” he said. “My wife, Kathleen, did a lot of the heavy lifting.”
As a physician, Mark’s specialty is in pediatrics and neonatology. But his Army career trajectory took him into administrative executive medicine. The juxtaposition of his medical education with his administrative experience had him considering what kind of job opportunities would be available to him in his post-military life. This encouraged Mark to consider a degree beyond the three he’d already earned —a business degree, specifically a Master of Business Administration.
“The career path that my Army career had taken me in terms of getting into administrative medicine,” he said, “made the subject matter and the skills acquired through an MBA attractive to help me in my job and, hopefully, prepare me for life after the military.”
Mark’s post-military goal is to stay in administrative medicine, perhaps running a hospital or healthcare system. Both of which often require an MBA.
“I decided it was time to do it before I made the transition to civilian life.”
Keeping Education in the ACU Family
After two or three years of investigating all of his educational options, he knew he wanted to switch up his learning process — he wanted to go online.
“Just given the way my job was … I wasn’t going to be able to take time off,” he said. “Nor did I really want to do something where I was going to be two-to-three nights a week in something.” With that in mind, he continued looking at various programs looking for the perfect fit. The answer came in the mail, addressed to the parents of ACU undergraduate student Gabby Thompson.
“It was either in her freshman or sophomore year,” said Mark, “and one of the mailings that came to the parents from ACU mentioned they’re starting their online MBA program.” Things clicked. A couple of things, actually.
“One, I had been very impressed with ACU,” he said, “with my daughter’s interaction with the university before she got there and then after she got there.”
“And then their MBA also advertised itself as having a kind of Christian-based focus. I found that both intriguing and attractive in terms of an MBA program.”
Christian-Based and Business Savvy
For Mark, the fact that the program was highly regarded and affordable were great value-adds to the program. But he truly appreciated the possibility of living out his Christian ideals in a business setting, something that became immediately evident in the interactions he had with his professors and fellow students through discussion boards.
Whether it was accounting or marketing or some other business class, Mark’s papers, problem sets and professors would challenge him to consider how his faith affected him and his work in those areas. Those questions and the discussions that came from them led him to the conclusion that not only is it possible to live Christian ideals in a business setting, you can be successful doing it.
“As a matter of fact,” he said, “in a very interesting twist, not being cut-throat and being essentially Christian in your approach, may even offer you a competitive advantage. You can be more successful practicing those ideals than not.”
Mark goes on to say that, historically, a faith affiliation is a traditional trait of the healthcare world. Many hospitals, not-for-profit organizations and healthcare systems still have significant faith-based affiliations, the kind that drive their mission, vision and values.
Now that Mark has earned his fourth degree and has had a chance to reflect on this latest chapter in his educational journey, the thing that strikes him most was just how timely and valuable his online learning really is.
“Even in the midst of the course of study,” he said, “in my job — at that time I was running an Army hospital in Texas — it was very relevant on an almost day-to-day basis. We’d be studying something in one particular class and a direct application would present itself the very next week or day in my job.”
One more thing that really hit home for Mark was how much he learned from his fellow students and how conducive the online setting was for the learning experience. He talks about how, in an on-campus setting, no matter how many students are in the classroom, a small percentage naturally start leading the conversation and do most of the talking.
“Well, online … at least the way ACU runs its discussion forums,” he said, “you heard from everybody in your class. Everybody has to comment. You really get to learn a lot about the people in your class and a lot about how they’re thinking about a particular problem, and what their solution might look like … I didn’t recognize how powerful that was in terms of its educational value until I took an online class and began to see it happen.”
Inspired by Mark Thompson’s dedication to self-improvement? An MBA could be in your future. Learn more about ACU’s Master of Business Administration program here.