College of Allied Health Sciences Awards First Degree

USU President Dr. Richard Thomas (left) and College of Allied Health Sciences Dean Dr. Mitchell Seal (right) watch as former USU Senior Vice President retired Army Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Patrick Sculley presents Army Staff Sgt. Robert Eccles with an Associate of Science degree in Health Sciences from USU.  Eccles is the first CAHS degree recipient.  (Image credit: Sharon Holland)
 USU’s Newest School Bestows Associate of Science in Health Sciences

By Sharon Holland

Army Staff Sergeant Robert Eccles, 38, from Holladay, Utah, is the first recipient of an undergraduate degree awarded by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU).

Eccles, who serves as a medical laboratory technology instructor at the DoD’s joint Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) in San Antonio, Texas, received the Associate of Science degree in Health Sciences from USU’s new College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS) in a ceremony at the Army Medical Department Museum on Oct. 11, 2017.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Patrick Sculley, conferred the degree on behalf of USU, presenting the diploma to Eccles as family, friends, fellow instructors and other DoD colleagues offered their congratulations. Sculley, who is the former Senior Vice President of USU’s Southern Region and founding Executive Dean for USU’s Postgraduate Dental College,  was instrumental in the establishment of the CAHS at the request of the Services to support readiness, recruitment and retention of service members.

Four rows of seated people listen to a man speak from behind a podium. The Eccles family is seated front and center
Family, friends, fellow METC instructors and other DoD colleagues gathered to watch Army Staff Sgt. Robert Eccles receive the first undergraduate degree from USU’s College of Allied Health Sciences, Oct. 11, 2017.  (Image credit: Sharon Holland)

“You will forever be the first graduate of the College of Allied Health Sciences,” Sculley told Eccles. “You will carry that mark of distinction with you the rest of your life.”

Eccles joined the military in 1999 and trained as a heavy construction equipment operator,  He was later deployed to Iraq, where he suffered injuries that forced him to change occupational specialties, retraining as a medical laboratory technician in 2005. That earned him 60 credits and a certificate from George Washington University.  His initial goal was to become an Army cytotechnologist and then apply to medical school at USU, but he decided to refocus on Physician Assistant school instead.

Over time, Eccles accumulated more than 120 credit hours from a number of colleges and universities, but because many of them were not transferable from one school to another, and because he had not accumulated enough hours to establish academic residency, he was never awarded a degree.  Academic residency requires 25 percent of the total credit hours for any degree to be completed at one institution.

After hearing a presentation at METC from the CAHS registrar on the opportunities available, Eccles was first to submit his portfolio for consideration.

Congress granted approval in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act for USU to grant undergraduate degrees. As a result, the CAHS was established to meet the needs of military students and the Services by awarding transferable college credits that can lead to undergraduate degrees for corpsmen, medics and technicians completing military medical training programs at METC.  The degree program not only makes students more marketable and competitive for promotion, it offers significant cost savings to the Department of Defense.

A row of seated men in various military uniforms look to their left where someone is speaking out of frame
Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) James Dienst (second from left), director of Education and Training for the Defense Health Agency, flanked by USU alumni Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Robert Miller (left) and Brig. Gen. (Dr.) John J. DeGoes (right), watches the award of the first undergraduate degree from USU’s College of Allied Health Sciences to Army Staff Sgt. Robert Eccles, Oct. 11, 2017.  (Image credit: Sharon Holland)

Currently, USU faculty assess academic portfolios for students in five METC programs -- surgical technologist, medical laboratory technologist, nuclear medicine technician, physical therapy technician, and neuro-diagnostic technician, and for instructors in 49 METC programs.  However, other military organizations have also expressed interest in working with the CAHS.

Students’ qualifications, other college credits, as well as the training received at METC, is documented and transferred to recognized, transcripted college credits with the opportunity to complete a degree awarded from USU.

For Eccles, earning the USU degree was a dream come true.

“Knowing just how prestigious a university USU is -- and the fact that I wanted to attend USU years ago -- I am honored to be able to earn my first, but not last, degree from USU. I am even more excited for all the service members who will be following me in this program to be able to earn their degrees from USU,” he said.

Eccles plans to continue his education, focusing on earning his bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences and then working towards his Master's degree in Health Sciences Education. His eventual goal after he retires from the Army in a few years is to teach Medical Laboratory Sciences at a university.

“You are a symbol,” USU President Dr. Richard W. Thomas said to Eccles.  “You symbolize a new standard of excellence in enlisted medical education and training, and you are a symbol for those yet to come.”

A photo of the degree certificate
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Eccles is the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences first undergraduate degree recipient.  Eccles earned an Associate of Science degree in Health Sciences from USU’s College of Allied Health Sciences.  (Image credit: Sharon Holland)

“To be the first CAHS graduate still feels a bit surreal,” Eccles continued. “I look at this program and what it will offer to all the service members coming through the Medical Laboratory Program and other programs, and it fills me with happiness to know that these Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen won't have to struggle as much as I did to earn their degrees.  I already have been telling my peers and students, this is the best opportunity available to service members, and the most painless way to earn our degrees.”