The double life of an Army Guardsman

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Newman University's MBA students often lead a double life: worker by day, student by night. For some, that might conjure up images of super-heroes.

Matthew Ayres, who is completing his MBA in leadership at Newman, may not wear a cape or have a phone booth to change in, but he is a hero both in the classroom and on the field.

During night class, he goes by the name of Matthew Ayres. By day, he laces his boots and dawns his pressed uniform and answers to "Lt. Ayres."

1Lt. (P) Ayres serves in the Kansas Army National Guard as a recruiting officer. Ayres has recently been selected for the position at the Kansas Army National Guard Armory in Wichita based on his eligibility for the rank of captain. His educational path has taken him full circle: He started 15 years ago as an undergraduate at Newman University, took courses at other universities and has returned to Newman to complete a graduate degree.

Blackhawk publicity event

Ayres led an unordinary promotional event on Sept. 21 to raise awareness within the academic community and key civic leaders. Two thunderous Army Blackhawk helicopters took groups of visitors into the air for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see what it's like to be a member of the Army Guard. The presence of the Blackhawks added what Ayres described as the "wow factor" of the event and was a key factor in attracting local news media to the event.

Ayres' goal for the event was to form a stronger bond as a community between citizens and the Kansas Army National Guard.

Ayres said, "Because of the uniform, people first think of our federal duty, but we want them to realize our local duty to them." He continued, “It’s a great time of engagement for people to see the citizen soldier as not a camouflaged war-fighter but an integral part of the community.”

Simulations were also run for the attendees to give them a taste of the possibilities of what a national guardsman may do.

“We want to sell the National Guard as a hometown community resource in the event of a natural disaster, but what people don’t realize is the educational opportunities through membership in the guard,” said Ayres.

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1st Lt. Matthew Ayres. Photo by Daniel Murphy.

Financial benefits to Guard recruits

Ayres' team travels across Kansas to provide recruiting presentations to high schools, colleges and graduate schools where they discuss the specialty fields and career options of the National Guard. In addition to tuition assistance and sign-on bonuses, Ayres explained that many potential guardsmen are surprised to learn about the pay, educational, financial and health care benefits that the Army Guard can provide.

From undergrad to MBA

Ayres holds a soft spot for promoting education. In fact, his connection with Newman University began 15 years ago. Ayres started his undergraduate degree at Newman while working as a police officer and a reserve in the National Guard.

"I’ve been to a lot of schools around the country, which means accumulating and transferring a lot of credits," Ayres said. "But when I got to Newman, I knew it was home."

While pursuing a busy career as a law enforcement officer along with spending time as a reserve in the National Guard, Ayres took a break from his pursuit of an undergraduate degree, carrying with him the thought that he would get back to it eventually.

After nearly a decade had passed, Aryes realized he longed for the educational and relational experience he had at Newman.

"I love the class size, engagement and support I received and I knew I could only have that at Newman, so I was ready to re-engage my experience," said Ayres.

In 2015, Ayres re-enrolled at Newman to complete his undergraduate degree.

"I was welcomed back in," Ayres said. "The same faces were there and the same points of contact were there. They were genuinely happy to see me."

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Newman University Assistant Dean of Adult Studies Teresa Wilkerson and 1st Lt. Matthew Ayres. Photo by Daniel Murphy.

Ayres earned his undergraduate degree in May 2016 and credits Assistant Dean of Adult Studies Teresa Wilkerson as one of the main inspirations and motivations for continuing his degree at Newman.

"She was my academic advisor during my undergraduate degree and I've continued contact with her during my graduate degree," said Ayres. "I now have her as a friend and a pseudo-colleague on the outside of school. She's been a pivotal staple and helped me be successful to graduate."

Wilkerson was in attendance at the Sept. 21 recruiting event.

Ayres added, “Forming lasting relationships and establishing those points of contact through the faculty at Newman helped me raise my GPA and finish my degree.”

After completing his undergraduate degree, Ayres decided to continue his education and enrolled in Newman's MBA program with a concentration in leadership.

Ayres noted about his decision to choose Newman for his MBA, “Not one day have I said, ‘Maybe I should look somewhere else,’ or, ‘Maybe I should wait to start my graduate degree.’ The students are phenomenal and the faculty are awesome. They’ve been very supportive of me pursuing my degrees while continuing my military career. Newman has knocked it out of the ballpark. My daughter has seen how much excitement I've gotten out of the MBA program, so she will be pursuing her graduate degree at Newman as well."

To learn more about the Newman MBA program and what it has to offer, contact Karen Shephard at (316) 942-4291, ext. 2292 or shepardk@newmanu.edu.

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