Military personnel and veterans are benefiting from the University of Arizona's expansion of academic programs offered entirely online.
"Having access to online education is ideal for veterans who may have interrupted their education to join the military so that they could serve our country," said Vincent J. Del Casino Jr., vice provost of Digital Learning and Student Engagement.
"They may also be far from home, so UA Online now provides these military veterans access to a world-class UA education," he said.
The UA offers more than 40 online graduate-school degrees and certificates. Also, this spring the UA announced the introduction of 23 undergraduate degree programs offered under the UA Online campus. Additional programs have since been added, and the University is currently registering students.
All told, the UA offers online programs in areas and disciplines that include information science, health care, social services, early childhood education, business administration, Africana studies, statistics, psychology, public health, industrial engineering, communication, informatics, meteorology and sustainably built environments.
Military veteran Patricia Urquidi Alexander, who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force immediately after graduating from high school in 1978, decided to enroll in the UA College of Nursing's Online RN to MSN Clinical Systems Leadership program.
"The experience has been phenomenal," said Alexander, who began her coursework in January. "It has been challenging, but great."
The program will enable Alexander, who lives in Pennsylvania, to graduate in December 2016. She said the program's timing was ideal, and having the credentials to match her current work, as a regional chief nursing officer, was essential.
"I'm pursuing this degree for myself, which is the greatest motivator of all," Alexander said.
In addition to the degree programs, the UA offers support for students who have been or currently are affiliated with branches of the military.
In 2013, U.S. News & World Report named the UA a top-25 institution in its support of military veterans. This year, the publication ranked the College of Nursing No. 32 among the Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs for Veterans.
The UA has numerous student-led clubs and organizations supporting the needs of veterans. Also supporting them are the Disability Resources, Adaptive Athletics and campus ROTC programs and the GI Bill's education benefits assistance.
The UA was the first in the nation to launch a center specifically for military veterans pursuing health science degrees: the VETS Center at the Arizona Health Sciences Center. Additionally, the UA is a partner institution with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides scholarships to student veterans.
Maj. Pedro Oblea, Jr., who earned his Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing from the UA in May, chose the UA over other schools because of its ranking and the reputation of the faculty.
Currently stationed in Texas, Oblea will be relocated to Germany in July where he will serve as a nurse scientist, which is a highly specialized position within the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. While abroad, he will conduct research on active duty personnel and their families, having completing his dissertation on the effects of short-term separation on military wives.
"This is my dream job," said Oblea, who was born and raised in the Philippines, and originally joined the U.S. Army in 2003. He credits Terry A. Badger, professor and division director of the community and systems health science in the UA College of Nursing, for his academic success.
"The military spends so much on behavioral health. If we can tackle this problem preventively, my research would be helping," said Oblea, who received the Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation Award during the college's convocation ceremony. "I want to thank my university, especially the College of Nursing. I would say that I am fully prepared and can compete with the best of the Ph.D. graduates."
The prestige and reputation of the UA also attracted veteran Maurice Jones, who now works for the Department of Defense in Germany. Jones joined the military in 2001 and, after years of service, he relocated to Arizona, where he began teaching intelligence.
"It is a perfect fit for my personality and interests. I see it as a perfect blend of business and the psychology behind it," said Jones, who is finalizing his coursework this semester. He plans to continue a career in military intelligence abroad.
Jones credited the teachings and support of Brandy A. Brown, assistant professor and program director, and the way UA courses have been structured for dialogue and interaction, along with the use of instructional technology, in helping him feel connected to his coursework and the campus.
He said Brown "has helped me to completely overlook the fact that the program is online — I have felt like I was in a classroom," said Jones, who has taken online courses at other institutions in the past. "Now there is certainly a sense of accomplishment having completed my bachelor's degree and being a Wildcat."