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TN National Guard leaders enhance skills through partnership program with Lipscomb

The innovative leadership program is nominated for the 2023 Army Community Partnership Awards.

Keely Hagan | 615-966-6491 | 

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee with students and teachers of TN National Guard cohort

Gov. Bill Lee visits the inaugural class of TN National Guard Lipscomb University students in June 2022.

Thirteen mid- to senior-career leaders from the Tennessee National Guard will soon be better prepared for continuous growth and advancement thanks to their master’s degree from Lipscomb University. 

The inaugural Tennessee National Guard cohort of Lipscomb’s Master of Arts in Leadership and Public Service are expected to complete in December the degree they began two years ago. Aimed at enhancing leadership skills among full- or part-time seasoned professionals in the Tennessee Army or Air National Guard, this practitioner-oriented degree program is made available through a partnership with the Tennessee National Guard and the College of Leadership & Public Service.

It is noteworthy that this innovative partnership with Lipscomb and the Tennessee National Guard has been nominated for the 2023 Army Community Partnership Awards; winners will be announced in January 2024, just a few weeks after the first class graduates. 

Guardsman presenting in the classroom

The dedicated students of this first cohort began the program in March 2022 and are now reaching the culmination of their educational journey. After attending classes one evening a week for six semesters at the Tennessee National Guard Base in Nashville, they are now reflecting on their experiences and what they’ve learned as they work on their capstone presentations, scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15. 

“Driven by our commitment to empower leaders with skills that can be implemented immediately, the program challenges students with thought-provoking leadership experiences that encourage ongoing growth, reflection and lifelong learning,” says Laura Encalade, assistant professor and executive director of the School of Public Policy, within the leadership college. 

Educating actively serving soldiers equips them for the transition into civilian life, providing transferable skills that set them up for success in a variety of roles, she said.

Modeled from Lipscomb’s Regional Scholars Program that gives public servants from rural areas of Tennessee the opportunity to earn a discounted master’s degree with a focus on innovative leadership in statewide settings and take that education back to their communities to better serve their local constituents, the TN Guard-focused program provides a discount to military leaders who also want to better serve the state. 

“We want all of our soldiers and airmen to be prepared for success in their next career,” says Chief Warrant 4 Scarlett Bernier, Tennessee Army National Guard Education and Incentives Branch Chief. 

The evolution of this unique program began with conversations with Bernier and the college’s leadership, who realized the benefits the statewide-focused degree program could provide to members of the Tennessee National Guard. 

In 2021, when the state expanded access to state funding through the STRONG Act to cover graduate education, National Guard members were then able to leverage federal tuition assistance with Lipscomb’s tuition discount to receive an essentially cost-free master’s degree education. 

“I really feel that we are partnering with the state and with our communities, using state money to educate state guardsmen,” says Bernier. “We are sending leaders across the state where they will get good jobs, spread their knowledge and help their communities by being more educated citizens.”

The importance of nurturing military leaders through education is widely recognized, with some positions within the National Guard requiring a master’s degree for promotion, said Encalade. 

Lieutenant Colonel Colby P. Tippens, executive officer of 278 ACR, says for him, education is important for advancement and also to be continually learning. “If you’re going to be a true student of leadership, or if you’re truly attempting to master a craft of any kind, you can never stop learning,” he says. “You have to have an answer to what you are currently doing to get better.”

Lipscomb’s commitment goes beyond offering education. Bernier says, “The first thing Lipscomb talked to us about was how they can make this program work for the National Guard. Dean Joiner (Steve Joiner, dean, College of Leadership) offered to provide the class on a weeknight rather than the traditional weekend schedule and for professors to come to our campus to teach. That has made a 100% difference,” she says.

“Our philosophy is to bring the program to them,” says Encalade. “Not only does the professor travel to teach in a classroom at the Tennessee National Guard Joint Force Headquarters each week, we also provide dinner and buy the students’ books. We work to make it accessible, helping to ensure that they can balance their military service, careers and family responsibilities while pursuing their education.”

Female guardsman in the forefront of picture of soldier-students in the classroom

Members of the inaugural cohort have been some of the program’s most enthusiastic ambassadors, said Encalade. The natural word-of-mouth recruitment among their peers and colleagues speaks to the program’s value to those who serve their country and state. This fall, the program extended to East Tennessee and more than doubled in size, welcoming its second cohort of 27 National Guard member students, based in both Nashville and Knoxville. 

As the first 13 leaders to complete the program step onto the graduation stage in December, they will carry with them the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to make a lasting impact in their National Guard service and in their future careers in civilian organizations.

  • Richard Allen, Cyber Security Manager, TN Army National Guard
  • Scarlett Bernier – TN Army National Guard Education and Incentives Branch Chief.
  • Nathan Brown – NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of Training
  • Michael Brumer – Advanced Target Development Flight Chief for 237 Intelligence Squadron
  • Nathan Hayes – Secretary of the General Staff, TN Army National Guard
  • Joseph Henry – S4 Logistics Officer, Regimental Support Squadron in Columbia, Tennessee
  • Kenneth Johnson – Sergeant Major, Personnel Division, TN Army National Guard
  • Hannah Joy – Special Security Officer at Berryfield Air National Guard Base
  • Scott Matthews – Cyber Intelligence Officer, Air National Guard and Nashville Airport Base
  • Shauna Plotz – Master Sergeant in TN Army National Guard and Supervisory Human Resources Specialist
  • Michael Roberts – Logistics Warrant Officer serving as Property Book Officer
  • Sadi Swaney – Plans and Policy Officer for TN National Guard State Headquarters and Engineer and Military Police Officer for TN Army National Guard
  • Colby Tippens – Lieutenant Colonel, executive officer of 278 ACR

The Lipscomb University master’s in Leadership and Public Service program for members of the TN National Guard is not only shaping the leaders of tomorrow but also preparing today’s leaders to face the challenges of an ever-changing world.