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Airman Marti Gardea browses college course brochures in the Navy College administration office.

USS Ronald Reagan Sailor Pursues Degree through Navy Program

“Mission first. Sailors always.” – CNO

This post, written with the help of Petty Officer Alexander Tidd of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), proves that although mission accomplishment is our military duty, professional and personal development is part of who we are.

Airman Apprentice Marti Gardea wandered into the Navy College Office like many other Sailors before her—certain of her goals but unsure of how to get there, she said in an interview March 19.

After spending her first year in the Navy, she’d already been part of some of the largest humanitarian operations in history and worked on the flight deck of the Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.   But now, standing at the door of a college classroom, a completely different kind of challenge lay ahead for the young Sailor.

At 20 years old, Marti was a few years removed from high school, but maintained the desire to learn. Now looking at more than a year in Bremerton, Wash., without having to go to sea, she was ready to walk the roads of higher education. After all, her ship was in the dry dock getting upgraded; it was time for her to make some improvements of her own.

The renovated brick building that houses the Navy College Office (NCO) at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton presented the initial university atmosphere to Gardea, only adding to her already nagging sensation to do something more; she was ready to begin down the path to a degree.

Bremerton Navy College Office staff members know how nervous new students can be, especially those enrolling in college courses for the first time. With so many options, from College Level Examination Program (CLEP) or DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) to in-house classes and the Tuition Assistance (TA) program, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Navy College Office staff members do their best to alleviate some of the pressure and confusion.

Gil Williams, director of the Navy College Site, reviews college degree requirements with Airman Marti Gardea.

Gil Williams, Navy College Office site director in Bremerton, knows firsthand how beneficial Navy College program options can be. A retired submarine warrant officer, he previously took advantage of Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE) while underway and used Navy TA while on shore duty. Gardea knew what she wanted to accomplish; to be an X-ray technician, but to initially focus on the “basic stuff.”  So, she took my placement tests, and then looked at available classes.

Sailors enrolling in Navy College programs are provided various options regarding the type of instruction they receive, such as in-class or online/distance learning to figure out the best fit for each individual situation. Williams said one of the most valuable tools we have at our disposal is the Navy College Distance Learning Self-Assessment Tool. This tool allows Navy College staff to determine whether or not a Sailor is prepared to participate in courses via distance learning.

NCO Bremerton recommended Gardea attend a Navy College Program Distance Learning Partner (NCPDLP) school that also has a full-time faculty and staff on board Naval Base Kitsap through a regional Memorandum of Understanding.

Required college coursework may also be supplemented with military training and experience that has been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE) that awards recommended college credit for specific military training received. This is documented on a Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript (SMART). It’s common for some Sailors to receive a large portion of college credit earned through ACE that can be applied toward their degree.

After having her SMART academic credit evaluated by Navy College staff and subsequently accepted by Vincennes University, Gardea decided to start classes at the beginning of the school’s next term.

An additional part of the process for some schools is to administer an academic placement test to determine a student’s level of knowledge in subjects like English and math.  The placement tests are designed to gauge the student’s existing knowledge level and make the process easier by determining which classes are better for them to enroll in and which ones they can possibly test out of by taking either a CLEP or DSST.

Airman Marti Gardea browses college course brochures in the Navy College administration office.

Starting with one class is how Navy College academic advisors recommend students kick off their degree programs to be careful that Sailors don’t get in over their heads. Of course there are exceptions. Sailors who have taken college courses through the shipboard-based NCPACE, at a previous duty station, or prior to coming in the Navy may be able to handle more than one class at a time. Now enrolled in her first class, Gardea can already appreciate how well universities that have partnered with the military to work with Sailors.

Marti’s speech class is only the beginning, and she is already excited about what is ahead in her academic future. In just a few weeks she’ll be enrolling in biology, with English to follow after that. Both Vincennes University and the Navy College Office seem to have been extremely helpful with getting her started on her degree.

Dr. Mary Redd-Clary, director of the Navy College Program at the Center for Personal and Professional Development, knows the importance of individualized counseling to help Sailors reach their academic goals, pointing out that completing a degree helps Sailors on a personal level as well as career-wise. Marti is a driven student, her positive experience enrolling in classes is common to most Sailors who come through Navy College Office doors.

Navy College Office has helped thousands of Sailors earn degrees. It’s a big task when viewed as a whole. The big thing is for Sailors to get the information and help they need, so they will be on their way to earning a college diploma.

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