Submarine captain surfaces to study in UO online program

The submarine USS Georgia

While the rest of his classmates are settling into their second week of coursework, George Perez will be in the heart of the Indian Ocean getting ready to slide under the sea.

Capt. George PerezAs captain of the U.S.S. Georgia, an Ohio-class submarine that carries up to 154 Tomahawk guided missiles, Perez and his crew of 174 officers and sailors will begin another mission, one that might last the typical four months underwater — or might not.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” he says with a slight, sincere laugh.

Either way, it will be some time before Perez is back at work on his master’s degree in applied information management at the UO’s Portland campus, but because of the flexibility of the online program, Perez can jump right back in as soon as he’s back on shore.

In large part, it’s the program’s design that first attracted Perez, who has spent the last 31 years in the Navy’s submarine force.

“The AIM program has a lot of flexibility for the individual student,” he said from his office in King’s Bay, Georgia. “It allows the student to tailor the day around work demands. I still have my full-time job here.”

Off the ship, a typical day will see him putting in eight to 10 hours leading his crew through extensive training preparing for their next mission, then driving 70 miles to his home in Florida to spend a couple of hours with his family before logging on to his computer to discuss class assignments with fellow students and the professor. Chances are, he’s not the only one who is thousands of miles away from the UO Portland campus, whether he’s on dry land or submerged.

“We have AIM students across the country, in every time zone,” said Kara McFall, the director of the Applied Information Management program. “The flexibility of the online model enables students who are active military, travel for work, or have unusual schedules to obtain a top education without missing class. I recently taught a project management class while traveling in Iceland, the U.K. and Ireland, so I can testify to the flexibility of the environment.”

Perez, who has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Texas and an MBA from the University of Florida, was looking toward his future when he was considering the information management program. With 31 years in the military, he has several more to go until he reaches retirement; if he attains the rank of admiral, he’ll stay in the Navy, but if things take a different route, he’ll have another master’s degree under his belt.

What he decided to pursue, he said, was an area that wasn’t a particularly strong suit of his.

“I knew I wanted to refresh my education in the business world,” he said. “And one of my personal weak areas has always been information systems. I wanted to build my knowledge there and create a familiarity of current business management. I like to be diverse. The University of Oregon gave me the possibility that I was looking for. And I’m also a big Duck fan.”

One of the primary goals of the program, McFall said, is that graduates see the benefits of the knowledge and skills they gain. “Over the last three years, 53 percent of our graduates reported receiving a promotion within a year of graduating,” she said

And that is good news for Perez, who expects to graduate sometime in 2019. He plans on flying to Portland to celebrate.

“It will be the first time I’ve been on campus,” he said with a chuckle.

By Laurie Notaro, University Communications