Student's military service helps make graduation possible

On any given day in Iraq, American military personnel work to gather information that will aid the efforts to restore peace in the area. For those tasked with this job, including army intelligence warrant officer David Goodpaster, a senior at the Lehigh Valley campus, the often antithetical views of the people they are working with can present a challenge. As the sheik of one tribe once explained, if a man from his village was killed by a neighboring village, it would not be uncommon for that village to offer the life of another human being to settle the score and avoid war.

This scene is about as far away as you can get from the sweetest place on Earth, Hershey, Pa., where Goodpaster's family has resided since he was 17. But the "eye for an eye" solution to peacekeeping is as much a part of those villagers' lives as chocolate kisses and peanut butter cups are to Americans. The difference is difficult to comprehend. And yet, there are thousands of American servicemen and women who are living and working in the midst of these foreign cultures that seem to differ so enormously from our own. But Goodpaster's intelligence work abroad is not only assisting our nation in an on-going war effort, it is helping him reach a personal goal this May: his Penn State diploma.

Like many Penn State students past and present, Goodpaster chose to pursue his college education while simultaneously serving in the military. In 2003, he entered the National Guard instead of active duty so that he could complete his educational goals, which began at the Harrisburg campus in 2004. However, a string of deployments and military training caused his college career to stop and restart a number of times.

During the spring 2010 semester, Goodpaster, now at the rank of army chief warrant officer 2, married his wife Jennifer, a native of Nazareth, and moved to the Lehigh Valley where he saw the opportunity to complete his information sciences and technology degree at the Lehigh Valley campus.

"With my wife being from the Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley campus offering a bachelor's degree in IST, it made perfect sense to move here and finish my degree," said Goodpaster. "The fact that Penn State offers campuses all over the state, and courses online, has really been a benefit to my situation."

After sitting down to evaluate his credits with Carolina McCluskey, assistant professor of computer science and IST program coordinator, they discovered that Goodpaster was just a few credits shy of qualifying for spring 2011 graduation. He was missing two required classes in, of all things, foreign culture.

"It seemed almost silly that someone with actual experience living and working in a number of foreign countries would have to put off graduating a little longer because of these requirements," says McCluskey. "So we came up with a plan to get him graduated."

McCluskey suggested that Goodpaster create and deliver two presentations to the campus about terrorism in the Middle East that would count as an IST special topics course, and develop them in a way that can be used in future classes. The availability of an online course in civic engagement would satisfy the other credits needed.

"My presentations in March and April will bring together much of the research I've done and my exposure to the cultures of many Middle Eastern countries to offer a perspective of terrorism that might be unfamiliar to many. It will focus mostly on groups in Iraq, like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and discuss how their cultural background affects their organizations, and how some of them are or aren't employing technology in their initiatives," said Goodpaster.

Though it has taken longer than the typical four years to reach this point, Goodpaster is quick to note that receiving his bachelor's degree is only the first step. He has plans not only to continue his military career, but also to pursue a master's degree through Penn State's World Campus and stay connected through the Alumni Association.

"I am so grateful to Penn State for being so flexible and willing to work with me while I serve in the military. From the tuition assistance, to offering credit for what I've done in the military, to being able to take leave when necessary, Penn State is a very military-friendly institution. It has given me the opportunity to graduate a little earlier than I expected."

For more information, contact University Relations at 610-285-5067 or e-mail aag18@psu.edu.

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Last Updated March 22, 2011