Former teacher pursues homeland security degree from nearly 4,000 miles away

Jessica Hallman
October 31, 2018

Editor's note: This is the first in a series on College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students who are currently serving or formerly served in the military, in commemoration of the University's Military Appreciation Week. 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – U.S. Air Force cyber transport technician Jennifer Tatum has experienced quite a shift in her career.

A former head teacher who earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Temple University, Tatum quickly realized that teaching was not for her and wanted to explore a new career path.

That’s when she joined the military and started working in computer networking. She is currently working to advance her skillset in the field by pursuing a master of professional studies in homeland security, with an option in information security and forensics, through Penn State World Campus.

“When I ended up doing computer networking, I realized that I enjoyed the work and can see myself doing this after the military,” she said. “I also realized after working briefly with the National Security Agency that I was interested in staying in government work, supporting the cybersecurity of federal networks.”

A native of southeast Pennsylvania, Tatum said that she likely would have wanted to continue her education in a traditional classroom rather than taking classes online. However, World Campus has made it possible for her to earn her degree during her current deployment.

“If I were still living in Pennsylvania I would prefer to go to class on campus, but it’s not an option in the military,” she said.

She said that taking classes online also allows her the flexibility of being a Penn State student from halfway around the world, although she has to be mindful of some logistical challenges – including unreliable internet connections and fluid schedules.

“Since I am currently deployed, my schedule is not as steady as it normally is,” she said. “I am also seven hours ahead of eastern standard time, meaning I need to pay extra attention to group activities, communications and deadlines.”

With her current deployment slated to end in January, and a few years left on her base in Germany, Tatum said that she plans remain in the military for a while. Her husband, also an Air Force member, is stationed with her. But she knows that her Penn State World Campus degree will not only help her advance in her computer networking job with the military, but also will grow her skillset for when she returns to a civilian career.

“Right now, the plan is to stay in the military for as long as possible, then get out and find a job that I enjoy doing,” she said.

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about degrees and programs offered online.

This year's Military Appreciation Week at the University kicked off with the Penn State football game on Oct. 27, and continues with other events through Nov. 12. This year's theme will recognize 100 years of women officially serving in the U.S. Armed Forces with special events and activities, including community football tailgate, library showcase, speaker events and more. For additional information, visit

Last Updated November 01, 2018