MSU Online student chosen for USAF Prestigious Ph.D. Program

Contact: Carl Smith

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A Mississippi State Online student is one of three captains chosen for the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Prestigious Ph.D. Program.

Matthew Koestner
Matthew Koestner (Submitted photo)

The award will provide Capt. Matthew Koestner, who is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree from the MSU College of Business, a full three-year scholarship to a top-tier U.S. institution of higher learning to pursue a doctorate in social and political sciences, specifically international relations, policy and economics. Program participation helps to develop strategic, competitive and diverse thinking and leadership skills deemed necessary for the Air Force to effectively compete on the global stage.

Koestner said he chose MSU for graduate work because he originally wanted to earn two degrees: an MBA and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

“I weighed the price point, name recognition and rating of the programs. When I compared multiple institutions, I decided Mississippi State was the right fit for me and my situation,” he said.

Koestner earned an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University and was commissioned by the USAF in 2014. He pilots the U-28A Draco, a part of the Air Force Special Operations Command’s manned, airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet. He has deployed four times and has accrued more than 1,000 combat hours.

Koestner is currently applying for economics programs and other public policy degrees that have an economic focus.

“My father is in the finance business, so growing up, I learned a lot about saving and investments,” he said. “Throughout my childhood, I remember major events, such the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the 2008 housing crisis. At some point during these events, there would always be articles about the cost of these events and the impact to the national debt. Seeing these stories and having discussions around the dinner table about these topics piqued my interest, and economics has always been on my radar.”

Upon completion of a doctoral degree, Koestner said he likely will advise military or civilian leadership at staff levels or work with thinktanks charged with solving specific problems.

“This fits into my career path because it is what I am passionate about,” he said. “When I was younger, I was never told I must be X, Y or Z. I wanted to find a job that I found fulfilling and where I could make a positive impact on the world. On this track, I get to do things I truly enjoy, and hopefully through my research and subsequent positions, I can make the world a better place.”

Ty Abernathy, an assistant clinical professor within the MSU Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, first met Koestner when the online student approached him about joining a study abroad program he was scheduled to lead in Spain. Abernathy helped work out the logistics of bringing along an active-duty aviator and observed Koestner lead lectures as part of his graduate student requirements on the trip.

“I mentioned to the group that I could easily see Matthew as a professor in a college classroom one day, and they unanimously agreed,” Abernathy said. “Matthew has excelled academically, professionally and otherwise, and, as a result, has established himself as one of our best and brightest graduate students regardless of program.

“I am so happy for him, and I could not be prouder of his selection and this incredible recognition,” he added.

MSU Online Executive Director Susan Seal commended Koestner’s recognition and said the university’s distance education options “were a great fit in helping him achieve his goals.”

“Mississippi State has been meeting the needs of those who need an online option for more than 20 years,” she said. “Our staff have the privilege of working with students to provide the unique support they need as well as collaborating with faculty for well-designed courses for our online students’ academic and professional success.”

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Friday, December 16, 2022 - 10:08 am