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Strategic Plan Spotlight: Marine veteran leads UND team tasked with meeting military education needs

Sherry Lawdermilt
Sherry Lawdermilt, UND director of administrative services technology, is a former Marine who grew up the daughter of a Marine. She was asked by UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo to be a project manager to spearhead development of Goal No. 6 (meet the educational needs of the military), part of the One UND Strategic Plan. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

When Sherry Lawdermilt graduated from high school, she wasn’t worrying about her college dorm roommate or how the university cafeteria food would taste.

She was prepping for Marine Corps training. She had a legacy to extend.

“I spent seven years in the Marine Corps, active duty,” said Lawdermilt, UND Director of Administrative Services Technology. “My father was in the Marines for 20 years, so I spent my life living on military installations before I went in. And my father’s father was in the Marines for 33 years. So it’s kind of a lot of experience,” she added with a laugh.

That’s why, when it came time for UND Provost and Strategic Plan Goal 6 (meet the educational needs of the military) Captain Tom DiLorenzo to choose a project manager – essentially a second-in-command – he didn’t hesitate to recruit Lawdermilt.

“Not only is she a veteran, but this goal reflects her life,” DiLorenzo said. “She has taken courses online, and the core of what we’re trying to do for the military is online. It’s in recognition that they have to move a lot, so we want to make a higher education experience that recognizes that. And she’s lived it.”

DiLorenzo and Lawdermilt are combining their higher education and military expertise to build upon UND’s already strong support of the needs of military personnel, veterans and their families. UND was awarded the Military Friendly School Gold Award this year, and was named the country’s third best Accredited Online College for Military by BestColleges.com.

“These are the people that serve our country and defend all of us. We want to give back to them,” Lawdermilt said. “Maybe it’s because I see them all as brothers and sisters in arms, but I want to do what we can for this population.”

Action plan

The first action item of Goal 6 is identifying what the military’s most high-demand degrees are – an item the implementation team can check off the list.

DiLorenzo said that UND had already worked closely in the past two years with Col. Rodney Lewis, former commander of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, to complete an assessment of the educational wants and needs of local airmen.

Tom DiLorenzo
UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo is the goal captain for Goal No. 6 of the Strategic Plan.

“Col. Lewis was instrumental in helping us see that the Air Force Base would like to be a partner with us. He was working on a graduate degree, taking classes at UND, so we learned a lot from him,” DiLorenzo said.

Once Lawdermilt and her team finalize their review of that degree list and how it fits with what UND already offers, they’ll work closely with the Goal 3 (more educational opportunity online and on-campus) team to initiate and promote those degrees and certificates.

The team is also doing initial work to integrate programs into the Air University Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative (AU-ABC). The program allows airmen to transfer an associate’s degree earned at the Community College of the Air Force to UND and use those credits for the pursuit of a baccalaureate degree, requiring the completion of 60 additional UND credits.

“We’re allowed to offer up to 10 programs on the AU-ABC website,” Lawdermilt explained. “We’ve started that process by identifying some high-demand programs that UND already offers online, like General Studies and Communication.”

Goal 6’s action plan also includes more thoroughly promoting the accessibility and flexibility of UND’s programs, as well as busting any barriers that may keep those who are interested in a degree from achieving that goal.

One of those barriers is how American Council on Education (ACE) credits are received. ACE looks at military learning that is done through occupational specialty training or other military training and assigns it college credit equivalency.

UND now accepts ACE credits, but they are transferred as general elective credits.

“We want to see if some of the classes in those high-demand programs exist as an ACE equivalency, and then work to get an agreement set up with specific Colleges so that they can come in not as a general elective, but as the equivalent course,” Lawdermilt said.

More on board

But Goal 6 team has big plans that go beyond the margins of the Strategic Plan charter – so much so that they’ve created a set of Post-it clusters to make their vision tangible.

Lawdermilt says her passionate group comes from all areas of campus – ROTC, the Registrar’s Office, Veteran & Nontraditional Student Services, Career Services and more – and they all have their own vested interest in serving this population.

“We’ve had wonderful sessions, and these are here to remind me,” Lawdermilt said, pointing to the sticky-note-filled paper sheets adorning her office wall, citing items like a military-only orientation day, a military advisory committee and veteran student involvement. “We want to go so much broader,” she said.

Lawdermilt wants to extend the benefits of Goal 6 beyond UND – to the community, state and national arenas.

She spoke on a panel at the North Dakota Defense Forum held in Grand Forks on Oct. 10-11, which attracted people from military bases across the state. The session was called “Engaging Military Families,” and Lawdermilt had the opportunity to share what UND offers military families, and how the Strategic Plan will continue to enhance those offerings – especially online.

“I want to make them aware of that, and then take that awareness to the national level,” she said. “I’m enrolled in the doctoral program here, and I think UND does a wonderful job of educating our students. I want to share that.”