Awards/Accolades

Monterey campus among the nation’s top sites for CLEP tests

February 11, 2015 by Cindy O'Dell
MIke Masterson of Brandman University prepares a computer for a DLI test-taker.

MIke Masterson prepares a computer for a DLI test-taker.

Mike Masterson’s job is to proctor and administer College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, but that’s not how he, those he works with and those who take the tests see it.

Brandman University’s Monterey campus recently learned it is among the top 25 military test centers in the nation and one of only four college campuses recognized for service to the military by the College Board.

As the proctor for the Monterey campus of Brandman, Masterson has been a key figure in the program’s success. He sees his role as being more like a grandfather or uncle. He’s there to make the process as stress-free as possible for those seeking college credits for what they know.

It helps that he has nothing but admiration for the men and women from the military’s Defense Language Institute (DLI), the ones usually taking the tests.

“I found that by making it a little more humane, more of a human experience, that it shows there’s someone who actually cares for them, not just another tester,” he said, explaining why he walks each test-taker through the process individually.

He even has a “first-timer” speech.

“First I tell them that I love working with the men and women from the DLI, that I have been doing it for over three years and have yet to get a stinker. Then I compliment them on the fact that during those three years, I have noticed that each one testing has come in and shown a focus and concentration on their test that is enviable, whether they pass or not. Finally, I tell them that it is an honor to serve those who serve us.”

Masterson knows that the people taking the test have already been through a rigorous day of intense language classes. He knows how much they value getting the additional college credit through the CLEP tests that will allow them to earn associate degrees in their assigned languages.

That goes for everyone from enlisted personnel to officers who already have advanced degrees.

When he finishes his speech, he inevitably gets at least a smile and more often a “thank you.” At least once he heard, “But I haven’t done anything yet.”

A shared CLEP success

Masterson said the success of the CLEP program at Brandman isn’t just his doing, although he’s been part of the process from the beginning. He credits the DLI’s education department for coordinating all the people, making sure they know what’s available and helping them work through scheduling problems for the program’s high volume and success rate.

The joint venture was begun in 2010, according to Darlene Doran-Jones, the education services officer at DLI. “In 2014, the Brandman University NTC administered more than 1,500 exams. Successes on these exams results in credits being earned and degrees awarded, as well as a significant tuition assistance cost saving for the various service components.”

Masterson was introduced to CLEP and the DLI by Jerry Edelen, the former campus director at Monterey. At the time, Masterson was the one-man IT department for the campus and chief troubleshooter when it came to most things technical from computers to projectors. When efforts to help DLI set up a better system for testing on their campus failed, Masterson suggested converting the computer room at Brandman into a test center.

The success of the CLEP program has helped raise Brandman’s visibility in the community, said Assistant Vice Chancellor Patricia Hammer who oversees Brandman’s Northern Region.

“We have the privilege of being the only CLEP center for Brandman, and it’s just been a wonderful asset to that campus,” she said, adding that the testing program was recently opened to the public, not just the military. “It’s a great opportunity for the campus.”

She also knows that Masterson will bring the same level of dedication and adherence to the strict guidelines that he has always brought to the program. “Mike is one of the most caring, genuine people I know. He’s perfect for the job,” she said.

Doran-Jones agreed, calling him a dedicated and inspiring educator committed to promoting access to higher education by members of the armed services.

Instantaneous test results

Masterson doesn’t just set up and proctor the tests. He’s also the person who delivers the news about passing and failing.

About CLEP
Each year the College Board recognizes the top 25 national military test centers who administer the most CLEP exams. The College Board, the people behind the AP and SAT, developed the program to test mastery of college-level material acquired through general academic instruction, significant independent study or extracurricular work. More than 30 tests are available.

Once they have finished an exam, he sends them up to his desk to sign out and prints out their score.

“I talk to them about how they did. If they passed, I congratulate them and shake their hand. If they don’t, I tell them that nobody fails here. They may not have passed, but anyone who gets up at 4 a.m., goes to school all day and then comes here to take another test is not a failure. If they didn’t pass then they know what they have to do next time to pass. And usually when they come back the next time, they do pass. That’s kind of cool,” he said.

“A lot of people who take the test are absolutely certain that they failed. Then they come up with a really good score,” he said. He uses that information to assure those worried about the test they’re about to take that their chances of passing are better than they might suppose.

Among the many memorable test-takers who have passed through, but one in particular lingers in Masterson’s memory.

“The first time he came he seemed a little uncomfortable about being there,” said Masterson of the test-taker, a member of the Army Rangers. He didn’t pass the first test but came back for six more tests and passed all of them. “The final test was a statistics test and he told me he had to pass it, but he was no mathematician.”

He needed a 400 to pass, said Masterson, and he got a 400. After delivering the news, Masterson expected a hoorah or some other satisfied but stoic gesture.

“This young ranger started jumping up and down, whooping and hollering at the top of his lungs … I went to shake his hand but he ran up and gave me a big bear hug, still shouting his thanks and amazement,” wrote Masterson in describing the scene.

The reason for all the celebration? He had to pass the test that night because he was being shipped back to Afghanistan for his fourth tour at 5:30 the next morning. He would not have had the opportunity complete his associate degree for many months.

In relating the story via an email, Masterson, recalled the young soldier who said he hadn’t done anything after hearing the first-timer speech and his own response of “you will, son you will.”

“Not everyone in the military will face dangers, be wounded, nor pay the ultimate price. I hope that young ranger comes home intact both mentally and physically. I doubt if I will ever know. I do know that we ask every person in the military to do what is needed to keep us safe from foreign threats, however remote and preserver our democracy, however imperfect, for us and the next generation,” wrote Masterson.

About Mike Masterson

  • Once worked for Straw Hat Pizza, first as a manger, then a project manager. He introduced the first statewide pizza delivery chain in California
  • Served in the IT department for PG&E, mainly as a troubleshooter.
  • Joined Brandman when it was still Chapman University College after answering an advertisement for an IT position, spending much of his time troubleshooting problems for people new to computers.
  • Lives in Marina with his wife.

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