Elyse O'Brien wears a camouflage uniform and stands in front of a Canadian flag.Elyse O'Brien’s work with the Canadian Armed Forces has taken her around the world this past year, from a posting in Alaska as an Air Battle Manager to serving as the Aide-de-Camp for a three-star general traveling across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America. But no matter where she goes, her passions for learning and continuous improvement keep her connected to Queen’s University.

Elyse is currently completing the Graduate Diploma in Education (GDE) and hopes to begin the Professional Master of Education in Summer 2023.

Looking back, she says her connection to Queen’s was immediate.

“I visited Queen’s during the summer before Grade 12 and I knew as soon as I stepped on campus…it was as simple as that. I didn't want to apply to any other schools,” Elyse said. “I was very set on Queen’s and I was really happy with my choice.”

During her undergraduate studies, Elyse stayed in Kingston every summer, enjoying the city’s amenities and small-town feel. Through acquaintances who attended the Royal Military College (RMC) and worked on the base in Kingston, she became interested in a military career and enlisted at the end of her third year. As part of joining the military, she negotiated staying at Queen’s rather than transitioning to RMC.

Following graduation, Elyse traveled back and forth across Ontario to complete her training before being posted to Alaska.

“Eventually I was in a place where I was fully trained at my unit and I definitely wanted to get back into schooling. What was the first thing I did? I looked at the Queen’s graduate website and explored my online and distance learning options,” Elyse recalled.

She quickly landed on the Faculty of Education’s Graduate Diploma in Education, which resonated both with her childhood desire to be a teacher and her passion for education. The fact that she didn’t have to become a traditional teacher to benefit from completing the program was an added appeal.

“Not everyone is in that same boat. Some people are teaching in international schools or sometimes people work in healthcare,” she said. “You really get to figure out how you can apply what's being taught to so many different career fields.”

The flexibility of the program was a tremendous asset as Elyse navigated her military career. When her posting in Alaska unexpectedly transitioned to an assignment in Ottawa, the timeline for completing her program shifted as well.

“I had very short notice to move countries and with that came a lot of work. I had to readjust some of my priorities and my timelines. It's one of the best things about the program: you can take that time when you need it.”

Elyse credits the graduate coordinators for their guidance in helping her recalibrate her academic plans and move toward successfully completing the Graduate Diploma in Education.

Online learning with real-life application

During Elyse’s posting in Alaska as an Air Battle Manager, her job involved constantly adapting and learning from her successes and mistakes – both as an individual and as part of a team. She employed a rhythm of planning, preparation, execution, assessment, and review to learn what was working and what could be improved in how she communicated with pilots and with the new air weapons controllers she was responsible for training. This method drew from theory taught in the Assessment and Evaluation stream of the GDE.

“The program has been very helpful for me with the question of how we can continuously get better? We may be better than where we were ten years ago, but we need to keep getting better and we need to keep refining these processes because technology keeps changing and warfare keeps changing.”

This systematic approach also translated well to her current role, where she is responsible for coordinating all the travel details, including accommodations, transportation and base access, for her boss, a Vice-Admiral, Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command. Her boss attends mission sites around the world to assess whether the Canadian military is making positive contributions to efforts such as those focused on stabilization, and whether the missions are maintaining their intended focus and have the right number of people in place to complete their objectives.

“Obviously I'm not the one who makes those decisions, but it shows you just how important assessment and evaluation are regardless of what industry you're in,” says Elyse.

So far, her travels since July 2022 have taken her to Israel, Palestine, Scotland, England, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Poland, Latvia and the United States, along with stops across Canada. Major shifts in time zones from one location to another and many different cultures to navigate have added layers of complexity to her work and provided new and unique opportunities for Elyse to apply the knowledge she has gained from the GDE. This skillset is one she envisions using as her career evolves.

“Something you see often with the military is you're always changing jobs. You don't typically stay somewhere for very long. Regardless of whether you end up on the civilian side or you stay in the military, this program is so transferable,” she adds. “It provides you with an important foundation, regardless of where you end up.”

Continued learning

While Elyse does not know where she will go next once her current posting concludes, she intends to begin the Professional Master of Education program in Summer 2023 which, like the Graduate Diploma in Education, can be completed online and at her own pace.

“It was an easy decision to continue with a masters degree because I love school so much. When I get into a rhythm of being in school and having those time management skills and those work habits and study habits, I don't want to lose those. It's good to keep that ball rolling.”

Beyond the course content, Elyse says she particularly enjoys learning alongside working professionals from other industries who bring fresh perspectives and approaches to group work.

“It is interesting when people bring up issues in their workplaces and how they’ve dealt with them. You start to see other industries have significant barriers that you don't always realize are there,” she explains. “People will post references and articles in discussion posts that I'll go and read; it’s a great way to stay informed and keep learning.”

Learn more about our Graduate Diploma in Education (GDE).

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