By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
BAGHDAD – One word sums up what a post-secondary education creates for someone: Opportunity. A person with a college degree, on average, can earn twice as much, or more, in their lifetime compared to someone who only has a high school diploma.
A degree from an accredited college or university can be a key that opens the door to a promising future. A deployed Soldier, however, cannot always attend the college of their choice and must work around their busy schedule to earn a degree online.
An increasing number of Soldiers are doing just that with the help of the Staff Sgt. Russell J. Verdugo Education Center here on Camp Victory. Between 700 to 1,000 service members a week pass through the doors for counseling and assistance in their quest for higher education.
“They [service members] can come in for any type of educational assistance and Soldiers can process and use their tuition assistance within 24 hours,” said Paul Karczewski, of Washington, D.C., and one of the three counselors who work at the education center. “We don’t process National Guard or Reserve tuition assistance here, but all active duty Soldiers can use Title 10 money for college,” he added.
The education center works closely with Central Texas College which is based in Killeen, Texas. It has a lab with computers for student use and proctors are available for examinations. The counselors and Soldiers use GoArmyEd, an online portal established in 2006, which allows students to research colleges and universities, register for classes, and request course materials and books. The portal services more than 140 accredited colleges and universities.
“The education center has helped me a lot with proctoring my exams and adding classes,” said Pfc. Randi Boardman, Joint Visitors Bureau administrator for the 1st Cavalry Division. “GoArmyEd is so easy too. I got my schedule and registration done and my materials and books were mailed to me with no problem.”
Boardman, who is from Chana, Ill., is attending Central Texas College online and plans to study architecture at Arizona State University. “I like the lecture setting, but sitting down and forcing yourself to actually read the textbook and learn the material is harder,” she said. “Luckily, I get a lot of spaces in between work so I pull out a book and work on coursework.”
The online community is just as diverse, maybe even more so, than a college lecture hall. Just down the road from division headquarters, Sgt. 1st Class Julia Palma, the Budget Manager for the 1st Cav. Div., is working to earn her Masters in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix online. “It fills the time when you’re separated from your family,” said Palma, who is from Lafayette, La.
Being deployed has not stopped the 19-year veteran from working to earn her master’s degree. “You have to be disciplined to complete online coursework,” she said. “You work it into your schedule and stay up late to complete the work.”
Discipline and dedication is what drives Sgt. Magdalena Sweesy, the executive administrative noncommissioned officer for Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, deputy commanding general for support of the 1st Cav. Div. Sweesy is working 8-week semesters which will earn her double the college credit that a traditional semester offers.
“This is hard; I’m very busy and work after hours to complete all my class work and research,” said Sweesy, who hails from Honolulu. She is attending Barton County Community College online and aspires to major in criminology at Kansas State University in 2010. “GoArmyEd is very helpful here because of the time difference,” she said. “I don’t have to wait for someone to be in the office for registration. My career counselor is always online via email.”
Whether single or married, working in an office or not, Soldiers have increasingly jumped into the virtual world to begin their college coursework. The Army’s tuition assistance program makes it easy.
Sgt. Ryan Sweesy, one of the personal security officers for Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy of the 1st Cav. Div., and husband to Sgt. Magdalena Sweesy, has started his first semester of classes. “I’ve started class work here because there are fewer distractions,” he said. “I either have a mission going out or a paper due.” Sweesy, who is from Cleveland, is attending Central Texas College online and plans to major in astronomy.
The opportunities for Soldiers who have the desire and dedication to earn a degree online outnumber the hurdles they may encounter. Time management is essential for deployed Soldiers who are working online to attain a degree.
“Make sure you’re really ready to do this because it’s so easy to say you’ll do the assignment tomorrow and put it off because you don’t have to physically go to class,” said Magdalena Sweesy. “It’s all on your initiative.”
A deployment can be an excellent opportunity for Soldiers to begin or continue their post secondary education. Determination, creativity, time management and the help of the education center here and GoArmyEd, can make that opportunity become the key that will open to many doors to a better future.