December graduate Tyler Bee may not have always known what his major would be in college, or that he would complete his bachelor’s degree in just 3½ years, but there was one goal he always knew he would reach — becoming an officer in the U.S. military.
After all, it’s a family tradition.
“My great-grandfather served in World War II, my grandfather is a combat vet from Vietnam, my father and uncle both served in the Air Force, and my sister enlists next month in the Army. It’s a long family history,” the Eau Claire native said.
A member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves since 2016, Bee will receive his bachelor’s degree in business administration on Dec. 22. He will complete his degree a semester faster than most, as a transfer student who also spent several months of his senior year in Thailand, mobilized on a training mission at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base.
To be clear, Bee was not on a break from his UW-Eau Claire courses during his mobilization with the Air Force Reserves — it was the start of the spring semester and he was enrolled for 15 credits.
After being able to attend only the first day of classes, he left for six weeks in Asia with a crucial full-time job to fulfill, and a full course load to carry.
“It was my first mobilization, and I was on my own in managing the two crews from my unit as well as two crews from Colorado Springs,” he said. “I was the youngest person in any of the units, 21 at that time, and the only student.”
Bee’s job with the reserves, one he trained for over the two years prior to mobilization, was the role of aviation manager.
“My job is to authorize all flight plans, check the credentials of each flyer, and carefully track the hours of the flyers to be sure that no pilot logs more than the maximum allowed,” Bee said.
The details and tasks of Bee’s role in the reserves all serve as further training ground for his ultimate goal — to become a C-130 flyer himself.
“Once I complete my degree, I hope to enroll at the Air Force Academy for another bachelor’s degree and another step toward commission, which is automatic for academy graduates. Only commissioned officers can fly. If the academy route doesn’t work out, there is also officer training school as a path to a commission — I’ll do whatever it takes,” Bee said.
This determination and commitment clearly got Bee through his UW-Eau Claire business program with flying colors, but he readily admits that none of it would have been possible in the timeline he accomplished without the support and assistance of the College of Business faculty for his senior level courses.
When asked how he was able to manage the course load on top of his job, Bee was quick to point out Dr. Abraham Nahm, professor of management and marketing, and Emily Elsner Twesme, lecturer in business communication — both instrumental in providing the understanding and practical solutions to accommodate Bee’s six-week absence from their classes.
“Emily Elsner Twesme allowed me to finish all my work for her class ahead of time, and for operations management with Dr. Nahm, he went through the syllabus with me ahead of time and pointed out the few things that I could try to read and work through on my own,” he said.
“Essentially, he told me to focus on my job there and that we would worry about catching up in the class when I got back. I was left with really only three of my classes to keep pace with each week, which was manageable.”
From a faculty perspective, Tyler's experience is exactly part of what Blugold faculty see as an essential function of their role — helping students meet their goals, which include life goals like joining the military, even when that conflicts with the course calendar.
"Given how much the mobilization was going to affect his personal and academic life, I felt it was the least I could do to support him any way that I could," Twesme said. "Tyler’s work ethic and unwavering positive attitude, coupled with his ambition, are going to take him far in life. His journey is just beginning."
In addition to the valuable job-specific training and experience Bee gained from the Thailand mobilization, he garnered soft skills that will be a lifelong asset to his continued education and life goals.
"The greatest thing it taught me was how to use my time wisely," he said. "It was really hard to always be the only person to turn down all the weekend excursions and chances to see more of the country, but I learned to embrace the battle. I knew what I had to do and I got organized and focused on making the most of all my time off duty. The early preparation and faculty support really helped me do that."
As Tyler Bee accepts his diploma and shakes the hands on the Zorn Arena stage on Saturday, he will take away not only an education to propel him further toward his goal of flying for the Air Force, but also the connections and continued support of the people and campus that helped him aim high and finish on his terms.
Photo caption: A member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves since 2016, Tyler Bee will receive his bachelor’s degree in business administration on Dec. 22.