Theresa Maske – building morale


A program that began as a class assignment at Newman University is now being tested by a unit of the U.S. Air Force, in an effort to help improve communications, boost  morale – and even save lives.

The program was created by Air Force Staff Sergeant Theresa Maske, who came to Newman in fall 2010 to pursue an Interdisciplinary Studies degree. Maske, who works in a health service management unit, was asked to create a study about leadership as part of a cooperative education course. She decided to base it on her personal work experience, and soon noted that communication between supervisors and their troops in her unit was lacking in key areas.

“A lot of the younger members weren’t getting what they needed to succeed,” Maske said. “Bad things were happening at that time. We had suicides and suicide attempts, people had health issues and stress. They didn’t know about programs that could help, because no one was talking to them. They didn’t have someone from the higher ranks who would help them learn effective communication and give them guidance.”

Suicide in the military has become a national issue. The Air Force official web site reported 66 suicides between January and August 2012. Across all services, 140 took their own lives between January and June. Given those figures and low unit morale, Maske felt the need to act. After performing interviews, surveys and other research, she created a mentoring program that would pair lower ranking personnel and those new to the Air Force with volunteers from higher ranks who would act as confidantes, informal teachers, and role models.

To ensure good matches between mentors and their charges, Maske devised a screening process for volunteers that included two recommendations from senior officers, an essay by the candidate explaining his or her qualifications, and a personal interview. She also worked to pair individuals with common interests.

Maske took the idea to her commanding officers, who were impressed and agreed to launch a program using the 300 people in her unit. Depending on the results, the program could expand to other areas, and ultimately other military bases.

“When people feel like they’re cared for, they perform better,” Maske said. “The Air Force focuses on professional growth. This program focuses on personal growth.”