Next post: West Point

by Janet Smith


Andrew Marsh stands in front of JMU's Keezell Hall with its limestone exterior
Andrew Marsh, 2013 master of arts in English degree recipient

With a decade of military service and a freshly minted graduate degree from James Madison University, Andrew Marsh is ready to join the faculty ranks at the U.S. Military Academy.

Marsh, who will officially earn his M.A. in English during Graduate Commencement on Friday, May 3, will report to West Point as his next duty station to teach for three years. The 31-year-old Army major – he was promoted April 1 – will first report to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama for the Intermediate-Level Education program and then begin teaching literature and composition to plebes (members of the freshman class) in spring 2014. The following academic year, he anticipates teaching additional specialized courses.

A 2003 graduate of Virginia Military Institute, where he double majored in English and writing and minored in education, and a 1999 graduate of Spotswood High School, Marsh has served his country in three tours of duty in Iraq. First deployed in 2003 as an armor officer serving as a reconnaissance platoon leader, Marsh advanced in his second and third tours. He was a reconnaissance platoon leader and assistant operations officer and later an infantry company commander.

As an active duty officer, Marsh applied “in a very competitive process” for a West Point teaching position and was selected for enrollment in a master’s program for two years to prepare for the role. Each academic department at the service academy manages its own rotating cadre of instructors and permanent professors, Marsh explained. “They like to draw experience from the field, the Big Army. They’re putting an officer that can serve as an example for future second lieutenants who can relate to them and tell them combat and leadership stories that you wouldn’t find if you brought in a civilian professor.”

Although he was accepted into JMU’s graduate program in 2010, Marsh had to wait until 2011 to begin classes so he could complete his Company Command time. Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia also accepted him for graduate study. “Dr. (Dabney) Bankert was really a big reason I came to JMU,” he said, referring to the English department’s director of graduate studies and professor of medieval literature. “She worked with me more so than any of the graduate directors while I was deployed. She really drew me into the program with her honesty and openness.”

Recalling the early weeks of his two-year master’s program at JMU, Marsh said, “It was a little bit daunting at first because I had done nothing close to academic work these past 10 years in the military. But coming back, it was really refreshing. It’s a change of pace, it’s a different focus, but there are still life skills that you learn in that gap period that you can apply to your graduate studies. Time management, being able to focus on an assignment and complete it to standard. It’s been a lot of fun coming back into the academic world and I’ve definitely enjoyed the time that I’ve had in the classroom.”

Bankert, his academic advisor, taught Marsh in two classes, Research Methods, which she described as “research boot camp,” and one based on Chaucer’s long poem, “House of Fame.” “He’s brought a richness to our program,” Bankert said. Especially in the research class, his “experience with managing people in high-stress situations was evident,” adding that Marsh combined strengths of a diligent worker with keen intellectual curiosity.

As part of his studies, Marsh developed a syllabus for an undergraduate course on research methods that Bankert believes he will find useful in his composition course when he first starts as a faculty member at West Point. “He has already identified the goals and challenges for developing the course,” she said.

VMI and JMU are “two very different atmospheres, but they each have their own merits,” Marsh said. “I can only speak to the graduate-level of academics at JMU, but it’s been laid back but professional. I’ve been nothing but impressed by the professors and the instructors. They are able to maintain a cordial and friendly relationship while still maintaining their leadership within the classroom. That’s something that’s not easy to do, coming from a position in the military.”

In addition to studying with Bankert, Marsh was a teaching assistant for Dr. Matthew Rebhorn and values the opportunity he had to see how the JMU associate professor approached his undergraduate class. “I was able to study the history of the book with Dr. (Mark) Rankin and to see his passion for it and how fun that kind of study can be.”

“All of my professors have had a part of themselves invested in every class they teach,” Marsh said. “They teach with a passion and vigor that you don’t find in a lot of other places.”

As he and his family, wife Kara and young sons Caleb and Rye, prepare to report to West Point, Marsh looks forward to blending his military and academic preparation to benefit cadets. “It’s said that it is a small Army and that’s true,” Marsh said. “After a visit in March we feel a real sense of community there. While we’ve enjoyed our time as ‘civilians,’ we miss the Army and we miss that community and fellowship and understanding that you have with the other families that are there.”

“I’ve always wanted to teach,” Marsh said. “I’ve always loved English and literature, and having the opportunity to teach at a location as prestigious as West Point is wonderful. I’ll have the opportunity to return as a permanent professor. This will give me the option to try it out for three years and see if this is something for me or not for me.”

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April 29, 2013

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Published: Monday, April 29, 2013

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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