Army officer earns master’s in organizational leadership to pursue career in business

Rising Up at KUEC: In this Q&A series, outstanding 2021 KU graduates share how the KU Edwards Campus has helped them start, advance or change their career. Meet Zack Spear.

Zack Spear, master's in organizational leadership

A U.S. Army Officer with plans for a future career in business, 32-year-old Zack Spear graduated from KU this May with a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership. During his time at KU, he was also a student at the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC). Though time management was difficult for Spear, he rose to the challenge.

“KU offered the right program with the right mix of courses and instructors to build on my Army experience and make me a better leader and manager going forward,” he said.

Spear – who won the KU School of Business’ first Donald F. Pageler USS Liberty Case Study Competition in spring 2021 – says his KU cohort helped make his time as a student especially memorable. Developing relationships with his peers allowed him to make lifelong friendships as well as professional connections. Originally from Spokane, Washington, Spear plans to return to Washington and begin a second career in the Yakima Valley after retiring from the Army.

Find out more about Spear and what he learned at KU.

Q: What was a typical day in your life like as a KU student?

A: I woke up around 6:30 a.m. to get ready for my courses at the CGSC. I biked to school and back, worked out in the afternoon, then did KU coursework, classes and CGSC homework until I went to bed around 11 p.m.

Q: What makes you the happiest?

A: I am happiest when I have challenging goals to pursue and when I am going on adventures with my wife.

Q: What motivates you?

A: I am motivated by my purpose to serve this country in the Army, by the leadership challenges the Army offers and by my faith that I am doing what I am meant to do with my life.

Q: Why did you choose KU?

A: KU offers great flexibility and Steve Leonard sold me on how my KU degree would benefit me moving forward in my career.

Q: How did KU meet your personal and/or academic needs?

A: KU offered the right program with the right mix of courses and instructors to build on my Army experience and make me a better leader and manager going forward. The MBA also provides me the credentials to back up my experience for an eventual post-Army career.

Q: How has your KU degree prepared you for the future?

A: My organizational leadership studies and MBA courses have broadened my perspective on leadership and management while giving me opportunity to learn from diverse peers. I have also learned new models and approaches to tackle problems for the Army. These perspectives better equip me to lead in today’s complex world.

Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?

A: Time management has been my greatest challenge. I have sacrificed balance with family and personal pursuits to manage two master’s degrees simultaneously from KU and CGSC. This challenge also forced me to get organized. I use a planner to track tasks each day and stay ahead in every course.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

A: My proudest accomplishment at KU is simply taking on the challenge of the MS-OL to MBA program along my CGSC studies. I added extra courses each semester to the normal programming on top of my CGSC coursework. This was a stretch goal but helps me maximize my time in Kansas to make me the best leader I can be in my next job.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your time at KU?

A: My favorite memory from KU is the relationships I’ve built during Zoom classes, group work and studies. I would never have met this high-achieving cohort of peers without KU. These relationships will benefit me for the rest of my career and the friendships are for life.

Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

A: My long-term career goals are to serve a minimum 20-year career in the Army and beyond if they will have me. After the Army, I plan to start a second career in business in the Yakima Valley. These goals will be the fruit of investing in the organizations I am a part of on a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Q: What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?

A: Find balance and get organized. Plan your coursework and assignments diligently and avoid procrastinating to reduce stress. Getting ahead early has given me freedom to control my schedule. Don’t be afraid to plan in some free time for your passions outside of school.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership at KU in Leavenworth.


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