A prevailing thought in the officer corps of the United States Air Force is that one needs a master’s degree to get beyond a certain rank. Practically any master’s will do.
For Lt Col. Steven Coffee, the Legislative Affairs program at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) met that requirement and so much more. “I wanted to get something that would be useful to me in the military and when I transition back to civilian life. A friend from undergrad and fellow GSPM alum 06’, Anthony Coley, told me about the program and it sounded like a perfect fit given my undergrad degree in political science,” Coffee said.
Initially he thought that his degree would help him to pursue a run for office or a career in government relations after leaving the military, but Coffee was soon using the skills he learned at GSPM while in the armed forces. “Immediately after graduating in 2008 I served as a Force Structure Analyst at the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and was immersed in understanding the balance of Congressional and budgetary oversight with military requirements; and later served as a legislative analyst for SOCOM in 2010. I still use the critical thinking skills that are taught there, especially the importance of looking at issues in a comprehensive and holistic manner,” he said. Coffee added that class work in political rhetoric helped him manage communications and engage with Hill staffers, senior civilian, and military leaders.
He had another chance to use his GSPM skills during a stretch as a Social Aide in the White Houses of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, coordinating the planning and execution of social events for the president and first lady. “I was able to observe the theory of politics taught in the classroom in reality,” said Coffee. “It was great to learn how to engage and work within the political process and contribute to the conversation.”
Lt Col. Coffee currently serves as a Joint Manpower Analyst (J1 Human Capital Division), Directorate of Manpower and Personnel at the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he serves as the chief human capital and requirements expert for the nine geographical four-star combatant commanders. “The personnel staff works to validate the requirements of combatant commanders. We’re the gatekeepers of validating manpower and personnel efficiency requirements and requests from four star generals through the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Coffee said.
Now nine years removed from the program, Coffee shared some advice for current and prospective students in the lead-up to Colonials Weekend, the university’s homecoming celebration. He was set to receive the GW IMPACT Award, which is given by the George Washington Black Alumni Association (GWBAA), and is “the highest form of recognition bestowed on distinguished Black alumni by the GWBAA Executive Committee,” to those who have cultivated a history of commitment to the university. “You need to let the program go through you. Don’t just go through the program. Get involved in the discussions,” he said. “Where else can you learn politics right across from the Capitol with people who work there and tell you the reality? This program is special. Immerse yourself in it.”