James Bernthal

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James Bernthal

James Bernthal
Master of Arts in Psychology, Organizational Leadership specialization

"Any time you give your all to something you attain a sense of purpose, and I believe I am achieving this at the University right now."

For former Marine pilot James Bernthal, life on the edge is just another day at the office. Only now, instead of pushing himself and his Harrier fighter plane to the limits, he helps push others to live to theirs. 

James, who earned his Wings of Gold as a naval aviator in 1999, says he was intrigued while in flight school by the 10,000 hour rule for mastery. He is currently earning his Master of Arts in Psychology, Organizational Leadership specialization from University of the Rockies. He says his interest in performance psychology has its roots in his experience as a pilot. “There are certain points in a pilot’s career where he or she is more susceptible to a mishap based on the hours they have attained. It all comes back to psychology in the end.” 

James, who still goes by his call-sign nickname of “Bernie,” says the psychology of being a successful pilot has applications in his current program as well. “As a pilot, the concept of logging hours is extremely important.’” As a current student, James says the concept of time spent working towards his degree mirrors the experience of logging hours flying. “It has definitely taken much more of my time than I ever thought was possible.” 

James’ time is definitely stretched. He and his wife Rhonda have five boys ranging in age from 2 to 14. Add that to a busy schedule of working with athletes to help them overcome the mental and physical barriers affecting their performance, and you can see how having a flexible program is contributing to his success. 

His ultimate goal goes beyond working only with athletes. “I would also like to broaden my horizons and work with other organizations such as the military and business organizations as well. I want to be a consultant and was just offered a position with a highly respected consulting firm, and I believe the new skills I have acquired in this program are what set me apart from the competition,” James says. 

Still, his training and discipline learned after 17 years in the Marine Corps is definitely benefitting him: James recently received a $1,500 “Excellence in Psychology” scholarship from University of the Rockies for his accomplishments, including his 4.0 grade point average. 

Such an accomplishment could almost be expected from a career military pilot. However, James says he knew long before entering the military that he would achieve the highest levels of academic accomplishment. “Ever since I was a little boy, I had always just assumed that I would earn my PhD. So, when we were asked if we wanted to sign up for the G.I. bill as second lieutenants, it was a very easy decision for me to make.” 

His journey has not been a smooth one, though. James admits he struggled in several areas. “The first obstacle was learning how to write academically utilizing the proper APA format. Next was becoming a master of the rubric and written instructions for each discussion post and assignment. Finally, similar to flight school, a student has to get to know each of their instructors as each has a different personality and expectations.” Fortunately, he says, once he had these areas mastered he could focus on the lessons and assignments. 

For James, the degree is just part of his overall goal of continuing to push his own personal envelope. “I am in the process of earning an advanced degree for which I have a tremendous amount of passion. Any time you give your all to something you attain a sense of purpose, and I believe I am achieving this at the University right now. I have also felt a sense of being humbled as I continue to learn and realize how much I don’t know.”
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