From K-12 to continuing education, Otto John Thomas made significant contributions across the education spectrum. He established, maintained, and increased opportunities for members of the U.S. Armed Services to gain access to higher education. Through strong leadership and advocacy for adult and continuing education programs, he helped ensure continued support and funding for these programs. He has been a strong voice in the higher education community for recognition of programs supported by the Department of Defense, engaging with leaders of colleges, universities, and higher education associations to provide education opportunities for military members and their families.
As Director of Educational Opportunities in the Office of the Secretary of Defense of the United States, he implemented educational programs that benefit military members and their families. He ensured the growth of programs helping service members’ transition to civilian life and provided opportunities for family members to improve their lives through education. He initiated programs to help children from military families to adjust to their transfers between Defense Department schools and America’s public schools.
During his tenure as Chief of the Department of Defense Continuing Education, Thomas proposed and achieved the establishment of a uniform tuition assistance policy that provides the same level of financial assistance to service members regardless of their branch of service. It created fairness and increased funding support for service members and fostered stability in military-friendly higher education programs.
In 1993, Thomas implemented a Congressionally-mandated program to help military personnel transition to teaching positions in public schools by providing stipends to departing service members, grants to colleges to establish training programs, and grants to public schools to encourage them to hire participants. He oversaw operation of the program and advocated for ongoing support.
Thomas was instrumental in initiating the Department of Defense-sponsored Worldwide Education Symposium, bringing together high ranking military personnel, important Department of Defense policy makers, and leaders from the higher education community. The symposium was a great success and was so valuable, it is now held every three years.
In addition to his contributions to adult and continuing education, he made a positive impact across other levels of education. During his tenure as a high school physics and mathematics teacher, he was elected President of the Overseas Federation of Teachers and negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement covering teachers in Defense Department schools overseas. Later, as Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator for the Department’s schools in six Mediterranean countries, he upgraded the curriculum, secured new text books, and held workshops on how to use the new materials. During his service at the Pentagon, Thomas managed and expanded the Military Impact Aid Program, which provides millions of dollars to K-12 public school districts that enroll children of military and Department of Defense civilians.
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