(Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories honoring members of the College of Information Science and Technology (IST) community during Penn State Military Appreciation Week).
Pennsylvania Army National Guard Captain Francis Killeen served in the military for nearly two decades, first enlisting as a US Army Cavalry Scout in 2003. He has completed two deployments to Iraq – the second in the framework of Operation Enduring Freedom where he was attached to the 2-104th CAV, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team as a team leader, leading to a promotion to the rank of sergeant in 2009. Two years he later decided to take a break from the military, then re-enlisted in 2013 with the goal of becoming an officer.
He attended the Officer Candidate School, where he was appointed second lieutenant. It was around this time that Killeen also began a Masters program in Professional Studies in Cyber Security and Information Assurance, which he completed in 2016 through the Penn State World Campus. Now, while continuing to serve in the National Guard, Killeen also teaches online courses at the College of Information Science and Technology.
WWhy did you decide to pursue a master’s degree while in the military?
I chose to pursue a master’s degree for several reasons. First, the Pennsylvania Army National Guard offers a considerable number of financial incentives, especially for soldiers who wish to obtain a technical degree or certification and follow the traditional university route. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard helped me pay for my masters, which was a huge blessing. I specifically wanted to pursue my masters because I wanted to launch my military career in cybersecurity operations.
Why did you choose Penn State and the IST program?
After several months of research, I chose Penn State for several reasons. First, Penn State prides itself on being a military-friendly school – which I found very true. Penn State’s excellent reputation with its military is unquestionable. Second, the study programs offered (especially the IST program) are the best. It is very difficult to find other colleges offering the same quality of education. Finally, I wanted to go to a college that would offer me the best education, with the best instructors, and which would make me the most marketable in the field I am pursuing. Penn State has offered all of this and more.
Why did you decide to re-sign with the Guard?
I knew I wanted to join the military again because I was missing out on being a part of something bigger than myself. I also knew that I wanted to influence positive change and, in my opinion, I believed that becoming an officer would put me in a position to do so. The call to pursue cybersecurity through the Penn State World Campus was by far the best option for me. I concurrently took a Basic Signals Officer course to become a 25A, which is all about communications – radios, servers, and computers. At that time, I thought that becoming a signals officer and pursuing an MPS in cybersecurity would complement each other and make me more marketable in the industry.
Why did you decide to become an Assistant Instructor for World Campus?
I knew I wanted to give back to the organization. While following the program as a student, I was provided with resources, strong and passionate leaders, who have been heavily involved in my academic career. It is an experience that I will always cherish. When the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to try. Fortunately I had the opportunity to teach and it has been a life changing experience. Ultimately, I want to provide my students, the institution, and the organization with the same positive, life-changing experience that I had while taking the program.
Do you teach the same courses that you took as a student? If so, what does this experience look like?
Yes, I have attended or taught some of the classes I have taken, and it is an absolute blessing and honor every day I have the opportunity to interact with a student. My experience through the IST program has been wonderful and my expectation is to pass it on with the same wonderful experience that I have had.
What impact or impression do you hope to make on your students?
I want to make a positive connection with them, whether it’s through a hobby, a place they’ve traveled, or something important to them. Then I build this positive connection. I want students to trust me first, and then I want them to rely on effective listening and communication. In addition to teaching safety and risk analysis, I want them to come away with life skills that they can improve upon and which I hope will last forever.
How do you draw on your military background in your role as an instructor?
Being in the military, we are all at some point a leader, an instructor or a facilitator. Ability to communicate difficult concepts down to the lowest level, while responding to the commander’s intent and accomplishing the mission, is anchored in all the military. I rely on these processes to have a positive impact on the way I approach my classes. Setting expectations for myself and the class, keeping structure while allowing creativity to flow, and being an effective listener and open communicator are the main military lessons I transfer into my teaching.
What was the most rewarding moment in your military career?
I would say I graduated from Officer Candidate School. Only 14 of the 78 who started the course when I did, were successful in graduating. It was a mental and physical challenge every day. It was an honor and a privilege to command that day.
Why are you proud to be a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard?
The Pennsylvania National Guard is full of Citizen Airmen and Soldiers. These are people who live in our communities who volunteered to respond when asked. We conduct federal missions through deployments and state missions in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. It has been an honor to serve such a great organization, and I look forward to living for many more years.