James Kazukietas
James Kazukietas

James Kazukietas has taken a few detours on his way to a college degree.

He dropped out of college just one semester shy of getting his diploma and didn’t resume his academic journey until 2016. That’s when he began the CEHD’s Cadre and Faculty Development Course, a program that helps ROTC instructors earn or finish a degree. He completed the course in May, and now has a UofL bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and learning.

Kazukietas lives in Locke, New York. He is a veteran, a sergeant first class Army officer and a military science instructor for Cornell University’s ROTC program.

He plans to soon add another credential to his resume: a master’s degree in Human Development from Cornell.

CEHD professor Jeffrey Sun, who launched the CFDC in 2015, said Kazukietas’ experience exemplifies how the program can be a game-changer for military and academic professionals.

“Do you ever think about how you take a complex problem, translate it into accessible soundbites, and help the learners translate that knowledge into other settings? That’s what we do in this program. For many, the program offers an entirely new approach to problem solving, leadership and teaching,” said Sun. “It helps soldiers, like Kaz, hone their teaching and mentoring skills by using evidence-based research. In the end, it’s all about helping the Army overhaul the ROTC program so they can provide the very best education to tomorrow’s military leaders and soldiers.”

Kazukietas said the CFDC inspired him to take his studies to the next level. That’s why he applied for the master’s program at Cornell.

“After studying human development theories (at UofL) over the summer of 2016, I was shocked at how we think development is this intuitive thing that just happens. You start to realize that it is the seat of a host of problems small and large that range from students feeling like they don’t matter to overt racial conflict,” Kazukietas said. “It opened my eyes to how complex relationships, environments and life experiences can affect the development of a human being.”

A roundabout journey

Kazukietas’ first foray into college was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He left RPI in 2001 and enlisted in the Army as an infantryman.

“I had always maintained an interest in military service and my disillusionment with the academic world at that time created the perfect scenario, in my head, to join. I thought that I would only do one enlistment but I found out that I really enjoyed the camaraderie, the dirt and, to an extent, the adrenaline,” he said.

As he considered his next career move, Kazukietas began investigating ROTC teaching positions. A colleague told him that he knew about an open job at a university but no one wanted to go there.

“When I asked why, he said ‘because it’s cold and snows a lot.’ I love snow and the cold so I asked him what school it was and he said ‘Cornell.’  I said ‘Cornell, like the Ivy League Cornell? I’ll take it,’” said Kazukietas.

Sun said that as he got to know “Kaz,” it was obvious that he had the heart of an academic.

“Last year, it was difficult for me to get to know our 366 CFDC students but Kaz stood out,” Sun said. “We had discussions that clearly signaled to me that he was a graduate student quality. He just needed an opportunity and UofL gave that to him.”