USMC Education Workshop

This summer, Professor Nikki Zumbach Harken had the opportunity to spend a week at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) “Key Leaders in Education” workshop in Quantico, Virginia. She was selected as one of 100 educators from around the nation. Adam Crise, a UNI graduate currently serving as an Officer Selection Officer for the USMC, nominated Harken for the experience. He says of Harken, “I remember her being very impactful as a teacher when I had her class. I know that a lot of students look up to her and that she is a leader on campus. Those reasons coupled with her interest in the military and I knew that she would love to learn about how we make Marine Officers and what Marine Officers do.”

Going into the workshop, Harken says she was honored and very excited. Two weeks prior to leaving for Quantico, she received a very detailed itinerary, but most of it was in military jargon so she didn’t quite know what to expect. Still, she was excited to meet the other educators and have the chance to network with education professionals from around the country.

Once at the workshop, Harken says the group participated in many of the experiences that Marine Corps officers engage in when they first arrive at Quantico. The first day, they participated in a Conduct Leadership Reaction Course, which tests physical strength, mental capabilities, problem solving, and strategic thinking. They also visited and trained with the Marine Corps Martial Arts Center of Excellence, flight simulation, tactical decision games, a visit to the USMC Museum, and even had lunch in the Mess Hall. Harken also had a meeting with several USMC officers including one of only 13 female colonels. 

Harken says her feelings coming away from the experience are hard to explain. “I always appreciated our military – but I realized, as civilians, how much we don’t understand about that life. It’s relatively easy to think about our freedoms on Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  As an educator, I enjoy the freedoms our military fought for daily.  The life I live, every day.  I have the right to teach material that is controversial, I can disagree with our government, I challenge students to question the status quo – all of those actions.  I do that without ever thinking I will be harmed.  I do that every day without worrying about a phone call asking me to lay down my life for that right.  Knowing other people would lay down theirs so I can continue teaching our youth is very powerful... and humbling,” she explains.

The number one thing Harken has taken away from the experience is that “failure leads to perseverance and perseverance leads to excellence.” Harken has long been an advocate for failure. “Failure,” she says, “happens when we don’t know or don’t put forth the amount of effort it requires to do something well. It’s easy to proclaim what we do well, it’s much more difficult to recognize weakness.” She learned that at Quantico cadets fail, and at times the goal is to make them do so. By identifying weakness, they can work and persevere through challenges until they reach excellence.

Harken says that now more than ever she uses this in her teaching pedagogy in order to challenge her students on a higher level. She recognizes that the students might be confused or fail, but thinks that’s okay because the weakness can then be recognized and improved upon. Harken says, “For me it’s not just about content knowledge, but about being the very best human being they can be.”