U.S. Marine marches ahead with accounting studies

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

College professors would mostly likely understand if a student needed to take time off from school for military service.

But University of North Texas senior Oscar Lopez decided to not take time off when he was deployed to Iraq last August.

An accounting major from Irving, Lopez served in the Marine Corps in active duty overseas from 1994 to 1998 before entering UNT. He continued his military service by joining the Marine Corps reserves, reaching the rank of sergeant.

Lopez was five classes and exactly one year away from receiving his bachelor's degree when his unit, the 1st Marine Division Communications company attached to Regimental Combat Team 7, left for Iraq.

Thanks to the help of his professors, he's still on track to graduate on time.

"I wanted to complete my education," he says. "I knew that I would have a lot of time on my hands in Iraq, and studying was a beneficial way to occupy that time."

However, none of the courses he needed to graduate were offered through the Internet, which he would have access to in Iraq.

So, he decided to go straight to his professors and find out if they would be willing to work with him.

O. Finley Graves, the chairman of UNT's Department of Accounting, spoke to Lopez' professors and requested that they e-mail his exams to him in Iraq.

"I realized he was disciplined. I also thought that if he were going to be in harm's way serving our country, I could surely take a few extra steps to help him achieve his educational goals," Graves says.

Lopez took the textbooks and syllabi for each class with him when he left for Iraq. He reads and studies on his own. Lopez' professors send his exams to his officer-in-charge, 2nd Lt. Michael Taylor, who administers the tests to him and send the completed exams back to the professors to be graded.

Lopez says the system has worked well for him.

"I spend a lot of time preparing for an exam by reading the assigned chapters and working the exercise problems according to the syllabus. Lt. Taylor receives specific instructions from the professors on how much time I have and what I need," he says.

He adds that he believes he's actually learning more in the Iraqi desert than he would if he were on campus in a classroom.

"I spend more time reading and studying out here than I do back home," Lopez says. "Part of the reason for that is the discipline level here. I believe my discipline level is at it's highest due to the environment. Plus, I wouldn't want to be wasting my professors' time by not giving it my best."

He notes that he usually has plenty of time to study.

"The months of October and November were difficult due to Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, but I always carry a book in my pack to read when time permits," he says. "Sometimes I get frustrated because of the living conditions. I don't have the luxuries of a desk or a library to sit and study so I have to make use of what I have available to me."

In spite of his circumstances, he is optimistic about graduating. Lopez is taking Accounting 4140, Advanced Accounting, this spring semester, after using a computer in Iraq to register for the class. He received his textbook from Cheryl Martin, academic budget officer for UNT's College of Business Administration. Martin, who has two sons in the Marines, sent Lopez the book after he paid for it via credit card.

Lopez' instructor for the course, Paul Hutchison, says Lopez is completing the same assignments and amount of course material that his "live" students are completing.

"He is a dedicated individual who has met all the deadlines that I have imposed on him. I regularly respond to his questions about the course or assignments through e-mail or telephone conversations," says Hutchison, an associate professor of accounting.

"It has been my pleasure to work with Sgt. Lopez to complete this course while he serves his country in Iraq, and I look forward to meeting him in person upon his return to the states."

Lopez hopes be back at UNT in time to attend summer classes in person and attend the commencement ceremony on Aug. 13.

He's already made plans for after graduation.

"Until my activation to Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was unsure of where I wanted to go with my degree," he says. "Being here in a combat environment has made me realize that I want to continue my service as an officer in the Marine Corps. As soon as I receive my degree, my next step is Officer's Candidate School."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108