EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is reprinted with permission from The Military Educator. It first appeared in The Dolphin, the base newspaper of Submarine Base, New London, Conn.
Most know the Navy supports Sailors who pursue higher education. While it will be mandatory for chiefs to possess at least an associate degree for advancement to senior chief, one Sailor recently took that a couple of steps further; by earning a master’s degree while serving aboard USS Toledo, (SSN 769). During his tour that started in 2001, Sonar Technician (Submarines) 1st Class (SS) David Plouffe earned two undergraduate degrees prior to the master’s program and became the first Sailor to earn a graduate degree through the University of Oklahoma entirely through the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE).
“I don’t know how he did it,” said CMDCM (SS) Scotty Fusco, Toledo’s chief of the boat. “His work never suffered, and he’s up to speed on his ‘quals.’ He’s qualified chief of the watch and duty chief petty officer. He’s always been ship, shipmate, self. All of his Sailors are qualified watchstanders, with none of them ever on the delinquent list.”
A veteran of 12 submarine deployments, Plouffe admits it took him a while to ‘get in gear,’ but he was actually preparing for it without realizing it all along. A history buff, Plouffe spent most of his down time reading.
“It was only when I decided to work on getting a degree that I realized I had 220 credits available through my Navy education and qualifications, allowing me to get my first degree by taking just one class.”
“I was never into playing video games or just ‘hanging out’ when off duty,” said Plouffe. “It was only when I decided to work on getting a degree that I realized I had 220 credits available through my Navy education and qualifications, allowing me to get my first degree by taking just one class.”
His avocation for reading allowed him to complete his second degree in record time by taking advantage of the free College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). By taking CLEP tests, Plouffe was able to earn 30 college credits, equal to approximately one year of college, without ever setting foot in a classroom.
“CLEP tests are the easiest and cheapest way for Sailors to earn college credit,” Plouffe said. And Bob Walker, the Navy College PACE coordinator, “bends over backwards to get Sailors what they need, when they need it. I’ve been all over, and this is by far the best Navy College office I’ve worked with,” said Plouffe. Armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, he enrolled in the University of Oklahoma graduate program.
Plouffe may have had just one advantage – he became the boat’s PACE Coordinator. As such, he works hard to get his shipmates ‘onboard’ with education. There are more than 20 Sailors enrolled in PACE this semester taking more than 80 classes while deployed, according to Betty Kirkpatrick of Navy College. “His dedication was one of the contributing factors for the USS Toledo being selected as a test platform for the new pilot PACE program.”
Plouffe was able to earn 30 college credits, equal to approximately one year of college, without ever setting foot in a classroom.
In that pilot program, instead of using laptop computers and CD-ROMS, some Toledo Sailors use personal digital assistants (PDAs), which take up less room than a laptop. According to Plouffe, the ultimate objective is to have Sailors complete their coursework on the PDA and e-mail it directly to the program director, rather than wait until they return from deployment.
Close to retirement, Plouffe wants to continue passing on his love of learning by becoming a teacher. He’s already a Rhode Island-certified substitute teacher.
He took the first step towards his education late in his career, and despite the credits he already had, he had to scramble.
“I have to thank my wife, Lynne,” said Plouffe. “She works full time and raised our three daughters while I was deployed or spent late hours studying. It would have been a lot easier if I had gotten started earlier, and that’s what I tell my shipmates, ‘work on your education early. It will open all kinds of doors for you.” – JO1 (SW) Ira J. Elinson, Navy College Office, Newport, RI
In 1988, the United States Navy began the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE), giving Sailors the opportunity to experience a college education while on sea duty assignments. University of Oklahoma Outreach is a charter member of this program.