Liberal arts alumnus named Military Educator of the Year

Susan Burlingame
June 17, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Lt. Col. Tom Chhabra, a 2000 alumnus of the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, has been named Military Educator of the Year by the United States Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. CGSC is a graduate school for U.S. Army and sister service officers, interagency representatives and international military officers.

An active-duty Marine whose military career spans some 20 years, Chhabra joined the CGSC faculty in 2019 as assistant professor in the Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations. In addition to his Penn State bachelor’s degree in administration of justice, he holds master’s degrees in information technology and leadership studies, and he is working on a doctorate in organizational change and leadership at the University of Southern California.

Though not from a military family, Chhabra said he decided in high school that he wanted to join the military. A high school athlete, Chhabra had coaches who were former military members.

“Besides my father, they were my role models,” Chhabra said. “I liked who they were and how they approached life, so I thought maybe the military was something I should look into. The camaraderie was also very appealing to me.”

Rather than enlisting or applying to one of the U.S. military academies, Chhabra opted to attend Penn State as a member of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps – Marine option. He entered the Marines upon graduation and has had deployments to Japan, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as several stateside assignments, one of which sparked his interest in teaching — something he had never contemplated.

“My first exposure to teaching was when I was stationed in Texas at an instructional facility. I later sought an opportunity to teach distance learning courses through Marine Corps University,” he said. “I found out I liked teaching, and there was an opportunity to teach at the Command and General Staff College, so I asked to be assigned here.”

“I actually think of myself more as a facilitator than a teacher,” Chhabra explained. “Here, I’m educating top students — seasoned military officers who bring a lot to the table. My approach is to initiate the conversation and then fade into the background to let them learn from each other. My greatest contribution as an instructor is creating an environment for my staff group to collectively learn at the highest level.”

Reflecting on Penn State, Chhabra said his college roommates and fellow Navy ROTC members are still his closest friends.

“I was absolutely happy with my Penn State experience,” he said. “It helped me learn who I am both inside and outside of the military persona.”

  • CHHABRA W STUDENT

    Marine Lt. Col. Tom Chhabra, assistant professor in the Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, Command and General Staff College, observes Command and General Staff Officer Course students as they brainstorm and make course of action plans.

    IMAGE: Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp
Last Updated June 17, 2021