Saint Leo DBA Student Helping Others Fly High in Air Force
Meet Jon Gonyea, a current Saint Leo DBA student who has carved out a lengthy and rewarding career serving in the U.S. Air Force for nearly two decades.
Jonathan “Jon” Gonyea has literally made a big impact on the world through his lengthy career serving in the U.S. Air Force. Gonyea is just months away from adding another diploma to his wall by completing his Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) from Saint Leo University.
The 41-year-old is originally from Boston, MA. He and his wife are the proud parents of four children. Since last summer, he has been stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Gonyea distinctly remembers a moment in time when he realized enlisting in the military might suit him well.
“When I was in high school, I read a passage in Plato’s Republic where they describe everyone’s job in the village,” Gonyea recalls. “None of those roles seemed terribly appealing to me except for the knights and guards whose jobs were to protect the city. I didn’t necessarily want to go into law enforcement, so I realized that others who protect the village were military members.”
He was commissioned into the Air Force in 2004.
Gonyea began his career as an intelligence officer. Since then, he has moved up the ranks to train many American soldiers and those from other countries and has supported various militaries and police forces to combat terrorism and handle conflict. He is currently a lieutenant colonel and works as the commander of the 402nd intelligence squadron. He has 100 airmen working under him, many of whom are flight commanders.
“My job is to make sure my airmen are productive members of society,” he says. “Are they trained to do their jobs? Do they have the support they need when it comes to mental and physical health?”
If Gonyea were to place pins on a world map showing where he has spent time, the map would be covered. He served four deployments in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. He has also worked in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Stateside, he has been at posts in Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Hawaii, and Alaska.
When asked about his most memorable experiences, so many come to mind. One in particular that stands out is when he assisted with MEDCAPs to provide temporary clinical facilities to civilians in certain regions of the world. He would accompany medical personnel into small villages that were very rural or in the mountains.
“Some of these people hadn’t had any medical care in years,” he recalls. “One girl in the Philippines had a huge bubble full of fluid that had formed from a cyst on her nose. It had temporarily blinded her for several months. Our doctor was able to easily treat her, and that small procedure that we would take for granted as routine in our country meant so much to her.”
He says the leadership aspect of his roles has taught him more than he ever expected when he began serving his country nearly two decades ago.
“When I first started out, everything was about how I could make myself better,” he says. “As time has gone on, it has shifted to where I’ve focused on how I can make these 10 guys in front of me better. Being able to make an impact on people has been the greatest experience that has also taught me so much. I’ve enjoyed empowering others to help them become more productive and efficient.”
Plus, he is extremely grateful for the journey he has had.
“On a personal note, I’ve appreciated everything that has come our way as a family. I have been very fortunate and blessed. I’ve had the chance to live in some amazing places and travel the world. Right now, I’m just trying to smell the roses.”
In terms of education, Gonyea has had the chance to pursue several degrees. Prior to joining the military, he graduated from Assumption College (now Assumption University) in Massachusetts in 2004. He was a double major in political science and French and also completed the ROTC program there.
He has juggled military service, raising a family, and additional education since then. He advanced to graduate school and earned a master’s in global security and intelligence studies from American Military University in 2012. Three years later, he completed a second master’s in military operational art and science studies from the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College. He then went back for a second bachelor’s degree, this time in accounting from American Military University in 2021. It was then finally onto a doctoral degree program with Saint Leo University. And what was it that convinced him to pursue a terminal degree?
“My big fear was that when I retired from the military, I would be limited in my next career move,” he confides. “I didn’t want a third master’s. Instead, I wanted a doctoral program that would be more applicable. This is why I chose accounting to focus on for my second bachelor’s degree.”
When browsing universities with doctoral programs, he says Saint Leo University had several selling points that hit the mark for him.
“I’m Catholic, so the core values aligned with my personal values,” he explains. “Several of my coworkers who had attended Saint Leo’s locations in Virginia spoke very highly of the university. I liked how the program has residencies where you get to meet your professors in fellow students in person. Finally, I saw this as an opportunity to broaden my connections as well.”
He enrolled in the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program in the spring of 2020. He has thoroughly enjoyed his courses on qualitative and quantitative analysis and statistics.
“Despite the fact that I’ve been doing intelligence analysis for 19 years, I’ve learned something new almost every week from my professors.”
He says the professors in the program have been second to none. These include Dr. Dale Mancini, the director of the program, and Dr. Thomas Kemp, an adjunct instructor of business. Additionally, several military veterans like Dr. Pamela Lee, a professor of management and director of Saint Leo’s MBA program; Dr. Zachary Smith, an assistant professor of economics and finance; and Dr. LaQue Perkins, an assistant professor of project management, have meant even more to him as a military student.
“It’s been nice hearing their stories of transitioning out of the military,” he says.
He has been very appreciative of how flexible his instructors have been when working with his unique schedule.
“The professors have been exceptionally accommodating and very willing to work with me,” he says. “They have given me the ‘out’ for an extension on certain things, but I’ve never taken it.”
Like many of Saint Leo’s online programs, the DBA incorporates regular live sessions held on Zoom. While there has been a significant time difference for him compared to other students based in the U.S., he has gladly made an effort to participate in the live class sessions.
“Waking up at 2 a.m. for class meetings on Zoom is tough, but I saw the value in doing it early on. The exchange of ideas and conversations makes all the difference.”
The connections have led to even more than just academic relationships, he adds.
“I’ve even made friends online through the classes,” he says. “When we met up in person, we were best friends already. It all goes back to my desire to develop my network outside of the military.”
He has visited University Campus twice, one time for a colloquium and most recently for one of the residencies.
At times, he has had to turn in assignments early based on the time zone where he is and his work schedule. This is why he has some critical advice for military students or anyone with multiple commitments in their lives.
“Time management and thinking ahead are so important in this type of program,” he advises.
His goal is to complete his dissertation defense and the entire program by October. When he ultimately decides to retire from the Air Force, he has his sights set on either teaching or working in the finance world.
“I have absolutely loved my military service, but there has always been a certain level of chasing the bad guys. I eventually want to move away from ruining people’s lives to where I can enrich people’s lives.”
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Jon Gonyea and are used with permission.