Active military member, student graduates with two degrees, eye toward a doctorate
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Chad Brack grew up on a small farm just outside the city of Duncan, Oklahoma. Both of his parents were teachers and encouraged him to take his education seriously. After graduating in 1996 as co-valedictorian, Brack received a full academic scholarship to Oklahoma State University.
“Going to college was never something I questioned,” Brack said. “My family and I simply assumed that earning a degree would be my next step after high school. That said, I wasn’t sure who or what I wanted to be. I changed my major several times and graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in international business with minors in marketing and German, but business did not appeal to me.”
He continued to work as a kitchen supervisor until 2003 when he decided to enlist in the Army. At the time he enlisted, he joined a new program that guaranteed him a chance to try out for special forces assessment and selection after successfully completing infantry school and the basic airborne course.
“I signed up mainly to learn something about myself and to gain some life experience,” Brack said. “I wanted to challenge myself in a new way by testing my mental and physical fortitude. Somehow, I’ve ended up remaining on active duty for nearly 18 years at this point.”
During the duration of his career, he was assigned to special operations units at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, deployed to Afghanistan five times and decided to enroll in school once again with the aid of the Montgomery GI Bill.
Brack has remained an active military member while earning his concurrent bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies online from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.
“Figuring out how to balance work and school was certainly a challenge,” Brack said. “Fortunately for me, since starting classes at ASU, I’ve been in positions that did not require me to deploy or travel frequently. I spent most of my spare time studying, especially during the weekends, because I wanted to engage with classroom materials as fully as possible.”
While at ASU, Brack earned the SHPRS Friends of Philosophy Scholarship, SHPRS Teaching Assistantship and the Bennie Adkins Foundation Educational Scholarship.
Brack is graduating this semester with his degrees and will be retiring from the military in two years. We caught up with him to talk about his experience at ASU and about his future plans.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)
Answer: Even from a young age, I’ve always been interested in philosophy and religion but not necessarily in an academic sense. In 2014, while working on a research project for National Defense University, I became familiar with the philosophical literature related to the epistemology of conspiracy theories. Around the same time, I subscribed to Robert Lawrence Kuhn’s Closer to Truth, a series in which Kuhn discusses philosophy, religion and science with the world’s leading scholars. I was hooked. I knew pursuing a PhD in philosophy was the right path for me, so I developed a plan to accomplish that goal. Earning a bachelor’s degree in the discipline was the first step in my plan because I knew formal study in philosophy would give me the necessary background to succeed in graduate school. This is what led me to ASU’s online program. One year later, I declared a concurrent degree in religious studies because I enjoyed my coursework so much and the religious studies offerings looked incredibly interesting.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: A better question would be, “What is something that did not surprise you or change your perspective?” I already had a bachelor’s degree when I joined ASU, so I got to waive all general requirements. That meant I could focus exclusively on courses related to my majors. I cannot think of a single course that didn’t challenge me or my views in some way. My philosophy courses were simply outstanding. They taught me to think more critically and to argue with rigor and clarity. My religious studies classes were inspirational and transformative. They gave me a completely new perspective on religion and spirituality. To say that the two courses of study changed me as a person would be an understatement. A more concrete example of how my perspective shifted would be my newfound appreciation for ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. After taking four courses related to the subject, I’ve come away with respect and admiration for how incredibly influential and innovative these ancient philosophers were. I’m also fascinated by Eastern philosophical and religious traditions, such as Hindu Vedic teachings and Buddhist conceptions of self and consciousness.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU for two reasons. First, ASU had by far the best program for my needs. I compared ASU’s course offerings with several other online philosophy programs, and ASU blew the others out of the water. ASU offers a large and diverse selection of courses every session, so I was able to take exactly the courses I wanted, exactly when I wanted to take them. I could not have done that with any other program. I also liked ASU’s style of online classes because I could work through course content according to my own schedule as opposed to being locked into specific meeting times. Second, the ASU advisers won me over, especially Tamara Petersen, who was my enrollment adviser. Tamara took the time to talk me through the process, to answer all my questions, and to get me admitted in time to start classes on short notice. She took an active interest in my goals, unlike the people I talked to at other schools. The academic advisers at SHPRS were also great. I always felt confident that Michael Currey, Amy Kaiman and Manisha Master would be there for me when I needed them.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Without question, Dr. Thad Botham was my most influential professor. During my first semester, I took Thad’s PHI 300 course on philosophical argumentation and exposition. His class is outstanding because it teaches students how to extract, understand and formulate arguments, which is an essential skill in the discipline. Later, I took Thad’s PHI 318 course on philosophy of religion. Thad took me under his wing and became a true mentor when I told him about my interest in pursuing a PhD. He even arranged for me to be a teaching assistant in his PHI 300 and PHI 318 courses the next summer, which was a valuable and rewarding experience. Thad wasn’t my only influential professor, though. In the philosophy department, Dr. Tom Blackson, Dr. Jeff Watson and Dr. Sandra Woien each inspired me in different ways. Tom’s seminars on ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy honed my ability to engage with academic scholarship. Jeff’s courses on metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of mind were some of the most thorough, interesting and challenging courses I’ve taken. Sandra’s seminar on Stoicism encouraged me to think about philosophy in a different way and hosted the best peer discussions of any class. In the religious studies department, Dr. Doe Daughtrey taught me to think carefully about which categories of study apply to specific projects, and Dr. Janet Carleton demonstrated the power of a multidisciplinary approach in her outstanding course on ritual, symbol and myth. Dr. Charles Barfoot, Dr. Joel Gereboff and Dr. Shawn McAvoy gave me the leeway to explore my own interests in every assignment and they each encouraged me to continue my studies in graduate school. I can’t say which lesson was the most “important,” but all of them were valuable to me. SHPRS has some truly great teachers and excellent course content.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I have four pieces of “best” advice. First, take your classes seriously. I’ve found that the more work you put in, the more you learn. Second, have a work plan whether that means dedicating a certain amount of time to study every night or setting up a detailed schedule. The better organized you are, the easier it will be to accomplish your tasks. Third, know yourself. If you tend to procrastinate, make sure you take that into consideration. If you’re a slow reader or a slow writer, plan for that too. I’ve had to adjust my own study schedule several times over the last couple of years to better match my actual study habits. Finally, exercise. I can get a little obsessive with my projects, so I’ve had to force myself to take exercise breaks. I’ve found that doing some physical activity always helps me to reenergize, but it never hurts my progress.
Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?
A: My favorite study spot is at home on my couch next to my dogs. I need a quiet place without distractions, so I wouldn’t dream of trying to study in public. Don’t tell my boss, but I also snuck in some study time at work.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan to start working on a writing sample for PhD applications. My wife recently completed her MD/PhD at the University of Kentucky and will be moving to the University of California, San Diego, to begin her residency this summer. When I retire from the military in 2023, I will join my wife in San Diego and, hopefully, start a PhD program at UCSD or another school in the area.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: There are a host of problems plaguing the creatures on our planet, many of which result from human carelessness or recklessness. I’m not sure $40 million would go very far toward solving any of those issues, but $40 million could definitely help to protect the planet as a whole. I would donate the money to the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to detecting asteroids and protecting Earth from impacts. The B612 Foundation aims to build and launch a heliocentric space observatory capable of locating and tracking potentially deadly asteroids before it’s too late. In my opinion, that is a worthy cause; it might just save us all.