IST professor and Air Force vet brings real-world experience to students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After spending almost 30 years in the United States Air Force, retired Lieutenant Colonel Mike Hills was looking for his next challenge. He earned his doctorate in information sciences and technology (IST) from Penn State and spent his military career serving as a cyber-operations officer in the United States Air Force.

“It was starting to hurt, running with the young pups in the Air Force. So I said maybe it’s time for me to figure out what I want to do next,” he said. That’s when David Hall, former dean of IST, offered him a job as an adjunct professor, teaching IST courses through Penn State's World Campus in 2014. “Then, upon retirement from the Air Force, I became a full-time professor and I’ve never looked back.”

Now he’s a senior lecturer in IST, teaching a mix of online and residential classes. He’s not only imparting his academic knowledge to his students, but also sharing his extensive military experience. He often weaves this into his classes, including when he was transitioning the United States’ nuclear weapons systems to handle the Y2K crisis. He said, “That wasn’t a classroom exercise — it was national security. Being able to tell those stories in the classroom inspires and engages the students a little bit more because it’s a tangible experience."

Hills knows the quality of IST’s doctoral program and the University’s support of veterans firsthand. “Penn State’s commitment to military students is unparalleled, especially through their online programs. When Penn State emerged in online education, they really had a purpose,” he said. “The fact that you get a Penn State degree, that service members have the reputation of this institution behind them, it really helps.”

Along with several other members of the IST faculty, including retired Marine Colonel Jake Graham and Army veteran Stan Aungst, Hills says IST students are exposed to a wide array of experiences, including the college’s recent partnership with Military Appreciation Day on Nov. 5. Hills said, “I’m happy to be a part of it and bring a military flavor to things. My beloved Air Force was good to me, and I’m glad to be able to share those experiences with my students.”

Media Contacts: 

Erin Cassidy Hendrick

Communications Strategist, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

Last Updated November 23, 2016