Army sergeants complete Penn State online degrees while on active duty

University Park, Pa. — Two Army sergeants living in Virginia chose Penn State online degree programs to help them achieve their education goals while serving on active duty. Margaret Smith works in a military intelligence unit at Fort Meade, Md., and Richard Bright is in retention and attrition management at Fort Lee, Va. Both will travel to Penn State's University Park campus to pick up their bachelor's degrees during the College of the Liberal Arts' commencement ceremony on May 14.

Smith is the married mother of a 2-year-old daughter and 7-year-old stepdaughter whose husband also is in the Army. She began college in 1998, but left before completing her degree. She traveled and worked; then enlisted in the Army. After tours in Germany and Iraq, she enrolled in Penn State’s World Campus in 2009 and will graduate with a bachelor of arts in law and society degree. Next Smith is planning to attend graduate school and has been accepted into Penn State's online MBA and a public policy program at another university. She also has applied to the Army's Green to Gold Master's Degree Active Duty Option Program.

"What attracted me to the World Campus was that it was a SOC school," said Smith of Fort Belvoir, Va., referring to the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges' designation for military-friendly institutions. "The online option allowed me to remain an active-duty soldier and a part-time student. It's been great."

Bright, the married father of three children, earned a bachelor of science degree in labor and employment relations. His 12-year Army career includes two tours in Iraq. "I was on convoy duty. It was very scary," said Bright, who is transitioning from the Army to a civilian role as a management and program analyst in the Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate. Bright plans to pursue a master of public administration degree and has been accepted into programs at Penn State and a second university.

Earning a college degree in three and one half years while serving on active duty involved "a lot of late nights and early mornings and no sleep. It was quite overwhelming," said Bright, of Manassas, Va. "My wife and I have had no social life for three years." This summer, they plan to take their children on trips to amusement parks to celebrate.

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering more than 70 of Penn State's most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus is the University's 25th campus serving more than 8,500 students in all 50 states and around the world. World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated May 12, 2011