Dissertation on military leadership is prelude to major advancement
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
It takes a special kind of passion to serve in the military, and you’ve got to understand that passion to do your doctoral thesis about it.
Jennifer Cameron certainly qualifies on that front. She always wanted to join the military and was recruited by the Air Force and Navy, but she has settled for being a military spouse – her husband is Army Maj. Nayari Cameron, stationed at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.
“One of my passions is the military and military families,” she said.
So it wasn’t surprising that she decided to do her Grand Canyon University dissertation, for her doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership, on a military subject: why there aren’t more African-American women in positions of authority in the Army even though African-Americans enlist at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups.
“I was just trying to explain what their experiences were and how they navigated their careers,” she said.
But what was at least a little surprising was what happened after she finished. Marcia Anderson had become the second African-American woman to achieve the rank of major general in 2011, when Cameron started her research, but in February a bigger barrier was broken.
That’s when Lt. Gen. Nadja West was named the first black female three-star general, becoming the highest ranking woman to graduate from West Point. Just two months earlier, West, 54, had been promoted to Army surgeon general and commanding general of the U.S. Medical Command.
“They’re redefining how we see women and their roles,” Cameron said. “You can see they have a love of their country and the service.”
The Combat Exclusion Policy, which prohibited women from ground combat positions, was lifted in 2013 after a unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By last fall, three women had become the first female graduates of Ranger School.
Cameron, 34, serves on the home front, where she is raising 9-year-old fraternal twins, Chloe and Colton, and is a trainer and prevention educator after a stint as a government contractor. She also volunteers with Operation Home Front, which helps soldiers transitioning back to civilian life.
After getting her bachelor’s degree in political science and her master’s in social science from Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., she was working on a doctorate at another university when a coworker who enrolled in the master’s program at GCU told her about it.
“I needed somewhere that would allow me some flexibility, and GCU was my top choice,” she said.
She gives much of the credit for her success to Dr. Pat D’Urso, who became her dissertation chair after her previous mentor passed away. They became fast friends even though D’Urso doesn’t mince words in her approach to managing students.
“I’m very aggressive,” she said. “I like to push students through. I try to get them to do their best work. I was probing and being very demanding, but it was for her benefit.”
And the result?
“She was a good student when I got her, but she became an even better student,” D’Urso said. “She has a wonderful personality. She’s so bright. She’s just a bright young woman. She knows that I really love her.”
D’Urso, like everyone else associated with the dissertation, remains stunned that West’s appointment came right around the time Cameron finished her work. Sure, it probably was inevitable, but it’s as if Cameron knew something was afoot.
“The timing is just uncanny, that this dissertation would come out in the same year,” D’Urso said. “She deserves some recognition for her hard work and conceiving the idea.”
Cameron remains wistful that she didn’t get to follow through on her dream to serve in the military, but she likes where she is now. “Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I still have the opportunity, and I do serve.”
And she serves with passion. Like any good soldier, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected]