Todd McCaffrey

Meet Todd McCaffrey

Retiring Army major general directs strategic partnerships for military and government programs

Todd McCaffrey, the new senior director of strategic partnership for military and government programs, is a retiring Army major general, who completed his military career as the chief of staff of U.S. Africa Command, a joint force headquarters located in Stuttgart, Germany.

UofSC Today asked McCaffrey about the newly created position and the role of military-affiliated students and research on campus.

 After a long career in the military, what brought you to the University of South Carolina?

I’m retired from the Army after 34 years. It was a great career and a wonderful experience that took me and my family around the world serving with the best America has to offer. As I looked at post military retirement opportunities, a couple questions grounded me. One was, ‘What are my passions? What is my purpose and how can I serve in another way?’ The other factor was that I knew I wanted something that would keep me tied to younger people and the energy and ideas that come from young people, and I wanted to be tied into a team. That combination of goals quickly leads you to higher education.

To be quite honest, I just wasn’t seeking to go into the commercial sector or to the standard defense contractor role that a lot of senior officers do. That’s not what I wanted to do.  It didn’t seem to fit my passion or purpose.

Describe your new role at UofSC and the goals behind the position and the office.

There’s a long job title that comes with the position, but I think it’s best described as director of military affairs. I think the job as it’s evolving has two major avenues. One is to assist in supporting, recruiting and growing the military-affiliated student population and supporting that population while they’re here. That’s active military members, veterans and dependents of military members.

The other avenue is tied to broadening the university’s role in seeking government research efforts, particularly with the Department of Defense.

What is your role in that?

My role is not only to come up with new ideas, my job is to help integrate the ideas of others as well and try to achieve synergy, provide added weight and potentially find greater success from those initiatives.

There are a whole bunch of great things already occurring at the university in veterans’ initiatives and research; I’m trying to wrap a lasso around all of them to make them more tangible and visible.

How large is the military population on campus, and why is it beneficial to increase the enrollment of military-affiliated students at the university?

We have an incredibly talented military and veteran student population here. It’s somewhere around 1,200 to 1,300 military-affiliated students in Columbia and I firmly believe that they are a positive value proposition for the university. Statistics show that those students typically perform at a higher level than their traditional peers — they have higher GPAs, they tend to come in with more maturity, and they tend to succeed at a higher rate. They also provide another important element of diversity for the university — diversity of ideas and experience that is helpful for the broader university population.

That student segment is often leveraging government entitlement education benefits.  They provide an important stream of tuition to the university, but they have choices. They are a discriminating consumer group. They’re looking for best value for their benefits. That value includes not only the quality of the education, but the price and the accessibility of that education as well. Those in the military are also a mobile group — they move every two to three years  so they increasingly seek educational options that can follow them when they move — that often leads them to online offerings. The strategic plan for the university discusses growing military-affiliated student enrollment by 20 percent by 2025. That’s a metric that I think recognizes the value of that population.

Can you talk about the role research plays and highlight some of the defense department work?

This university has amazing capabilities in research across many of our colleges that the Department of Defense can leverage to meet its capability development needs. There are eight substantial military bases in South Carolina. South Carolina also sits very close to major commands for all five of the services so it’s a great geographic location to do research and establish collaborative partnerships. Those are opportunities a lot of folks are already working on, and part of my role is to the raise the visibility of that and broaden our opportunities.

The university has been building an active partnership with Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. That partnership has been ongoing for some time and it is in everything from Artificial Intelligence, to mobile power production and battery issues in the College of Engineering and Computing, to brain health initiatives that the School of Public Health has been working on. Those are of direct interest to Special Operations Command today and could very well be of significant interest to the broader services as well.

Another research opportunity has to do with what is becoming the Army’s Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia, right across the state line. There are potential partnership alignments with the College of Engineering and Computing with the work the Army is doing with cyber.

There’s also the research that engineering and computing as done in power generation and distribution. These are critical, first world problems for the military these days. Efforts in these areas are a win for the university, a win for military, and frankly, a win for national security.

What lessons did you learn from your military career that will help you as you take on this role at UofSC?

The military does not do a lot of lateral entry, so you generally have to come in as an enlisted service member or second lieutenant. So, across my 34 years of service, I’ve worked from the floor level to the executive suite. I’ve found that relationships matter and the relationships that matter most are based on character. What I’ve learned is character counts and trust is foundational. If you can’t, at the end of the day, trust the guy or gal on your left and right, you have real issues, particularly in the business the military is involved with. Those principles apply at the university as well. I believe that any successful organization has got to be based on firm relationships grounded in trust.  Trust allows an organization to empower its people. I’ve found that once an organization has empowered its employees, it can do amazing things.

What has surprised or made an impression on you so far about the University of South Carolina?

As a new arrival, I’ve been so impressed with the welcoming spirit of the University of South Carolina. I’d heard about that hospitality before but was still pleasantly surprised experiencing it in person; everybody has been incredibly welcoming. The pleasant surprise, although not completely unexpected, is the amazing excellence of the talent here. I’ve been fortunate to be  able to listen in on some of the ongoing Future Planning Group COVID discussions. Listening to the collaboration and professionalism amidst this crisis has been amazing. I’ve told people back in the Army, ‘You’ve got to see how they’re doing things here. This is remarkable.’ There’s amazing talent here, from students to staff and faculty, it’s a remarkable team to be able to join.

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