Student veteran Mitchel Round set to become first student to graduate with degree in organizational leadership

by | Nov 23, 2020

Round received college credit for life experiences during his time in the U.S. Army infantry and applied it toward the degree, shortening his time to graduation.
Mitchel Round

Mitchel Round spent four years in the U.S. Army infantry and two more as a reservist before coming to UMSL. He was able to translate some of that life experience into college credit and apply it toward a degree in organizational leadership, which he will complete next month. (FaceTime photo by August Jennewein)

Mitchel Round thinks a lot these days about leadership.

Though it’s really a requirement for the eight-week capstone course he’s been taking to complete his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, he finds himself musing on the subject during his free time as well.

The Army veteran and University of Missouri–St. Louis senior has been typing out his thoughts for meeting some of the real-world challenges presented in the course, and he regularly posts them to the class discussion board.

The feedback he receives from classmates has been lacking, however, because he’s the only student enrolled in a course that is being offered for the first time this semester.

“If you click on the people tab on Canvas, it’s me and Dr. Bob,” said Round, referring to Assistant Teaching Professor Robert Cote. “It’s been fun, actually. The assignments haven’t changed.”

Along the way, Round has had the chance to share some ideas on how Cote might improve the course for future students in a program that launched earlier this year. Next month, he is set to become the first UMSL student to graduate with the degree, doing so with an emphasis in supply chain management.

“I was surprised when I found out as I started teaching the first class that I already had a student that was going to finish,” said Cote, who started this fall as the program’s coordinator. “It’s exciting.”

Round wasn’t certain of his academic direction when he first enrolled at UMSL in the spring of 2018 after three semesters of junior college courses at North Arkansas College.

He opted to declare a major in supply chain management in the College of Business Administration. He would spend three semesters and one summer session as part of that program, but he withdrew in 2019 to instead pursue a career as a fire fighter.

Round went through required EMT training at St. Louis Community College and was getting set to begin the St. Louis County Fire Academy. But he got some discouraging feedback while taking part in a required ride-along.

“One of the chiefs from one of the fire departments told me that with how old I was going be by time I was done with everything, it was going to be hard for me to get a job because of how physical the work is,” said Round, 28, who is also receiving some disability benefits from his time in the military.

As he reassessed his future, he sought advice from Joshua Perschbacher, UMSL’s director of Veterans Education & Transition Services.

Perschbacher was the one who told him about the newly approved degree in organizational leadership. It sounded promising and would allow Round to use the credits he’d already earned in supply chain and draw on some of his experience as a squad leader in the Army infantry.

He was even able to receive credit for some of that life experience to cut down his time toward graduation.

The program has proved to be an ideal fit.

“What he did in the military and what he’s going to be doing moving forward are similar,” Cote said. “He would be in his unit, and they would be in Afghanistan, and he one of his colleagues might walk over an IED, and he would have to make a snap decision. You still do that in the private sector. It won’t be as detrimental, and it won’t affect the team as much, but the concepts of team development and being the leader making those decisions are similar.”

UMSL has been a supportive environment throughout both Round’s stints as a student, living up to the reputation he discovered when researching schools where he might transfer after moving to St. Louis with his wife, Julie, at the end of 2017.

“Just a really easy Google search told me that out of the four or five colleges in the immediate area, UMSL was the best for GI Bill benefits,” said Round, a native of Branson, Missouri.

UMSL has been ranked on Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Colleges” list the past six years and was recently included on OnlineU’s 2020 list of Best Military-Friendly Online Colleges.

Round attended an open house that fall and met Perschbacher and Jim Craig, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Department of Sociology who served 25 years in the U.S. Army before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel. They helped seal his decision.

Craig taught the veterans transition seminar Round took during his first semester.

“It was a great help,” said Round, who served four years in the Army infantry and two more as a reservist.

He had enjoyed his military service after enlisting shortly after high school in 2009.

“I got to shoot stuff and blow stuff up and do all kinds of cool guy things,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. I’ve got some lifetime friends and a whole lot of intangible experience.”

But he’d also spent 15 months in Afghanistan and been left with a few scars from his time in combat. Craig’s seminar course and the people he met in the Veterans Center helped ease his continued transition back to civilian life.

“It was great having other veterans there, guys that had been there and done that, to be like, ‘Dude, this is bothering me, how do you deal with that?’” Round said.

Given the high number of nontraditional students at UMSL, Round never felt out of place as he worked toward his degree.

He is ready to be finished with school and move into the workforce full-time.

“My wife has been fantastic support, but I know for sure that she’s ready for me to start working and take some of the load off of her shoulders,” Round said.

The couple is expecting to welcome its first child, a boy, in January.

Round has a job lined up at R&S Machining. He learned about the position through a friend he met working part-time as a trainer at SharpShooter Indoor Range in St. Louis County. The new job is in R&S’s supply chain and logistics department.

“I think all those things have worked together to make me a viable candidate,” Round said. “I’m not getting a degree in supply chain management now, but I have several classes in the field and can justify my position there. I’m qualified for the position.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik