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Graduating veterans saluted at ASU's fall stole ceremony

Air Force Academy graduate Chris Howard advocates '3 PhDs of leadership' to fellow veterans in keynote speech

Man speaking into a microphone at a podium next to the Arizona state flag.
December 12, 2022

An Arizona State University leader, Air Force veteran and former Rhodes Scholar offered salutations, congratulations and leadership guidance to graduating veterans Dec. 10 inside Tempe’s Desert Financial Arena.

Chris Howard, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ASU Public Enterprise, provided keynote remarks during the Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony organized by ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center.

“Just like in the military — train for what you know and educate for what you don’t know,” Howard said. “This is not the end of your journey of learning. Be sure to make that commitment to yourself.”

A distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy and a doctorate in politics as a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Oxford, Howard also holds an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School, and in 2018 received the school’s Alumni Achievement Award. Howard’s service to the country began as a helicopter pilot, then as an intelligence officer, where he was assigned to join the elite Joint Special Operations Command. He served in Afghanistan in the Air Force Reserve and was awarded the Bronze Star. Howard concluded his career as a lieutenant colonel in the Reserve Military Attaché to Liberia, Africa.

Previously, Howard served as the eighth president of Robert Morris University, a nationally ranked doctoral granting university. Before that, he served as president of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

“We selected Dr. Howard for his passion and tenacity. Having served in the Air Force and not only being a successful military leader but a leader in higher education, Dr. Howard is an individual that veterans can look up to,” said Michelle Loposky, director of the Tillman Center. “The hope is our graduates will hear a message of resiliency, success and to continue their service whether that’s being a leader in the community or a leader in their chosen career path.”

Howard told graduates now that they are out of the military, they need to extend leadership they learned in the military to their communities and workplaces. He added that the key to strong supervision has three tenets, or what he calls “the three PhDs of leadership.”

“I want you to get a PhD in yourself so that you’re self-aware,” Howard said. “If you’re not self-aware, how can you self-actualize? How can you self-master?”

Becoming aware of the world around you, Howard suggested, is the second PhD graduates needed to learn.

“That means to be contextually aware and understand the world around you,” Howard said. “For example, you’re a leader at Mayo Clinic and are in charge of a group of surgeons, clinicians, doctors and nurses. You don’t talk to them the same way a drill sergeant would talk to you.”

Howard concluded that real life leaders also have a PhD in leadership.

“Leaders see around corners,” Howard said. “That’s what you get paid to do. Be cognizant and intentional about your leadership.”

The Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony is ASU’s special recognition for graduating veterans and active military service members. It was a marked turn from the first celebration in the spring 2011, when a small group of veterans gathered inside Old Main on ASU’s Tempe campus to mark their achievement. This semester, 667 veterans applied for graduation and will receive degrees, including a few PhDs.

Doctoral student and 2020 Tillman Scholar HyeJung Park was the student keynote speaker. Park enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve via a Military Accessions Vital to National Interest enlistment program, which helped her earn her U.S. citizenship. She is a research psychologist who aspires to create empirically-supported legislation designed to promote resiliency in at-risk and marginalized youth.

Park, who earned her PhD in human developmental psychology, thanked the families, friends, ASU community and United States voters for her degree.

“I’d like to extend a special thank you to those who made my military service possible,” Parks said. “The generosity of the people in the voting booth to provide affordable education for undocumented students allowed me — a once-undocumented immigrant — to pursue higher education and also obtain my U.S. citizenship. I’m now able to contribute to our democracy thanks to voters like you.”

She also called on her fellow veterans to demonstrate “humble leadership” as they leave academia and enter the workforce.

“What a joyous day. I’ve no doubt that in this room sits our future leaders. Many of you will go on to make long-term strategic decisions in areas of education, water infrastructure, arts, affordable housing,” Parks said. “As a community, we are a force that’s powerful because we feel this joint responsibility of leaving this place better than we found it.

Another graduate receiving a veterans stole was Shawn Banzhaf, a combat veteran, book author and pastor who first started working in Arizona State University's Tillman Center as an unpaid volunteer six years ago. He was named the center’s new executive director on Nov. 28.

Banzhaf received his master’s degree in sociology from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, and said achievement was a “dream come true.”

“From the first time I helped the center during the stole ceremony back in 2015 as the volunteer chaplain, I wanted to get my own veterans honor stole,” Banzhaf said. “The image of me walking that stage was a driving force for me to pursue my master's degree. Today is a dream come true for me as a first-generation college student veteran to walk in this ceremony with my fellow veterans.” 

ASU serves more than 11,100 military-affiliated students, including veterans, active duty, Guard and Reserve, and military families using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. 

Top photo: Lt. Col. Chris Howard, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ASU Public Enterprise, speaks to soon-to-be graduates at the Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony, Saturday, Dec. 10, at Desert Financial Arena on the Tempe campus. More than 650 student veterans applied to graduate with bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, with more than 200 attending the ceremony and receiving their military branch honor stole. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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