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Clinton Culp

Raising the Standard: Graduate Improves Character and Ethics Training in Marines

By Amanda Cairo

Transitioning from instructor to doctoral student was an easy move for Clinton Culp, and he was ready for a new adventure three years ago. But sometimes it’s the path you didn’t expect to take that makes the biggest impact. After retiring from the military, Culp secured a position at the Center for ETHICS focusing on sports, but it was his military connections that would eventually direct his studies.

"It’s been a very fortuitous chain of events that has led me to this program," says Major (Ret) Culp, who retired after 24 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. "I gravitated to it over the years. Once I spent time in the Marine Corps, I saw that a big part of being a leader is educating and mentoring those around you, and that’s what I wanted to do."

Looking at retiring from the Marines, and as an instructor for the Naval ROTC at the University, Culp was recruited to the College of Education’s Center for ETHICS (Ethical Theory and Honor In Competition and Sport) by director Sharon Stoll after he worked with her while doing his master’s degree in recreation. He assumed he’d follow his recreation background, but found a new focus for pedagogy - the art of teaching – related to character development and ethics.

"I saw that a big part of being a leader is educating and mentoring those around you, and that’s what I wanted to do."

During a reunion with friends in Quantico, Va., Culp was discussing his doctoral work with friends, including the commander of The Basic School, where Marine Corps officers receive their training. During a time of uncertainty in military morals, the commander asked Culp to look at the ethics and character training at the school.

After taking an initial look, Culp shifted his dissertation studies to focus on improving character development. He says the Marines assumed officer recruits had higher morals and ethics than the average college graduate, but his research found they were equal. Once that was established, he worked on creating pedagogy to reach the Corps’ high standards.

"I took a look at the curriculum, pedagogy and teaching methods," says Culp. "I came to the conclusion they were doing great work, and the curriculum was pretty solid, but we changed the pedagogy a little to focus on individual instances."

Culp shifted the focus of teaching scenarios with standard rules to being able to react in real time during different situations and treating them on a case-by-case basis. He says the military gives rules, but those rules don’t cover every instance and can even be counter-productive in critical maneuvers. Culp’s solution was to weave morals, ethics and character development into all aspects of training.

Rather than working at a distance, Culp spent six months in Quantico at The Basic School observing his training model with Marines and working with trainers and instructors. Marines acted out scenarios, which were filmed, and successes, problems and improvements that could be made were discussed during debriefing sessions. At the end of training, his research showed Marines who underwent the training had made marked improvements. With one class completed, Culp adjusted his teaching methods, which will once again be implemented at the school.

"It’s pretty gratifying to see your work improving a great tradition like the Marines," says Culp. "To see the trainers and instructors realize the process is working reinforces my initial teaching theories."

In addition, Culp teaches classes in sport in American society and moral reasoning in sport and natural resources. Culp earned his doctorate in Education in May.

 Read more inspiring stories from the Class of 2012 »