Through the USO and Coursera, a Military Spouse Pursues a Career Tailor-Made for Military Life

By USO Staff

One of the greatest challenges for military families is the need to pull up roots time and again with each new duty station. It’s difficult on service members, of course, but on their spouses as well. The average military spouse moves 8 to 12 times in the span of a 20-year military career. These frequent moves can make it extremely difficult for them to establish their own careers, which is why support for military spouse employment is crucial.

That’s where the USO and Coursera come in.

The USO has partnered with Coursera, one of the largest online learning platforms in the world, and has incorporated the platform into the USO Pathfinder® Transition Program, which provides professional development services to active duty, Reserve and National Guard service members, as well as military spouses, in preparation for life after the military.

With Coursera a part of the program, service members and spouses can earn certifications in high-demand industries like information technology, marketing, sales development, education and data analytics.

The USO’s partnership with Coursera can help ease military spouses’ struggle for employment through opportunities for professional development and education. And for one particular military spouse, the USO and Coursera’s partnership led to her finally landing a job offer after years of military life.

A Military Spouse’s Journey to Employment

Roda Burcham understands how frequent moves can affect a career.

She is the wife of an active-duty Marine and the mother of three daughters — ages 3, 4 and 7. In their 10 years as a military family, the Burchams started in Okinawa, Japan, before moving to California, then Georgia and now back in California at Camp Pendleton.

Originally from the Philippines, Burcham earned a bachelor’s degree in special education and taught English in Japan before meeting, marrying and then coming to the United States with her husband, Matthew C. Burcham. She later taught English at a Montessori school in California.

While in California, Burcham connected with the USO through its programs for military spouses. She participated in activities like yoga, crafts and coffee chats, all of which are designed to foster a sense of community and network of support among military spouses. A USO Transition Specialist at one of those coffee chats introduced Burcham to the USO Pathfinder Transition Program and Coursera. When she discovered that military spouses – not just service members – were also eligible for this program, she jumped at the opportunity.

Through the USO Pathfinder® Transition Program and Coursera, Roda Burcham, a military spouse, was able to find a career that easily fits into the constant moves of military life. | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

Between August 2021 and January 2022, Burcham worked hard to earn the Arizona State University TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Professional Certificate. The TESOL certificate equips students with the skills and knowledge necessary to teach the English language both in the U.S. and overseas, where English is taught to people of a different native language. Such a certificate can be extremely useful for military spouses who move regularly or are often stationed overseas.

Soon after completing the course and earning her certificate, Burcham was offered a job.

“I applied to become an online tutor and was accepted within 24 hours,” she said. She chose not to accept the job because the timing was not ideal for her family, as her husband will be deploying soon and there’s some uncertainty about what is next.

However, the job offer was a sign of good opportunities to come. After all, the company that attempted to hire her is always looking for TESOL teachers, which Burcham might pursue in the future.

“My certificate will definitely help,” Burcham said. “I have also built up my confidence, improved my teaching skills and used technologies I hadn’t used before.”

As English was her second language as well, having grown up in the Philippines, Burcham also went into the Coursera program with the additional goal of improving her English-speaking skills.

Overall, the USO and Coursera have helped set her up for success, and she continues to use the valuable opportunities provided by the USO Pathfinder Transition Program, including mock job interviews, resume assistance and guidance in creating cover letters. She plans to start a job search soon to prepare for the fall when her 3-year-old daughter enters pre-school, and her husband settles into his new assignment.

The USO’s Coursera Partnership

Coursera connects service members and their spouses to high-quality educational opportunities with certifications from some of the world’s best-known companies:

- Google IT Support Professional Certificate

- Facebook Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate

- Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate

- IBM Data Analyst Professional Certificate

- Arizona State University TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Professional Certificate

- Making Transition a Transformation – a USO Course on Coursera, created alongside Coursera, Cory Boatwright and Freedom Learning

These free professional certifications play a key role in the USO Pathfinder® Transition Program, which provides customized support at any time in a service member or military spouse’s career, including action plans, programs and resources focused on job-seeking, education, financial readiness and mentorship.

Through the USO’s Coursera partnership, military spouses like Burcham know that no matter where they are on their military journey, the USO will always be by their sides.

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