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Striking a balance between student and staff sergeant

In Oregon State, Chris Burke found a veteran-friendly university that offered a flexible business degree program online that provided knowledge he could apply in real time to his job in the Air Force.

Ecampus alum shares how to successfully juggle military life, raising a family and earning a business degree online

By Jordan Friedman
Sept. 5, 2019

With a career in the U.S. Air Force, Chris Burke has worked at odd hours, been deployed overseas and mastered the art of balancing a job and raising three children.

Add going back to college into the mix, and the need for an undergraduate program where he could complete coursework from anywhere and on his own schedule became even more essential. That’s why when Burke was looking into online bachelor’s degree offerings a few years ago, he searched for one that was both flexible and veteran-friendly.

“I was trying to find someone that could understand that I was in the military … I can’t come to campus to, you know, take exams or anything like that,” says the staff sergeant, who is stationed in Nevada.

With Oregon State University Ecampus delivering high-quality programs online – along with a supportive military and veterans office and the ability to pay tuition with the Post 9/11 GI Bill – Burke decided to enroll at the top-ranked school. He graduated in June with his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a specialization in supply chain and logistics management.

Burke wanted a program that could help him land a job in logistics management once he’s out of the Air Force. To his surprise, he’s already been able to apply what he has learned online with Oregon State to his professional role.

From staff sergeant to online student

Burke’s job for the Air Force involves ensuring that aircrafts have all of the parts they need to operate as planned – so if an aircraft needs a new wheel for its next mission, he helps oversee the process. He mainly works in the Las Vegas area, but when he flies to other cities, he can bring his schoolwork with him.

As many online students come to learn, time management is crucial for success. In Burke’s case, it was particularly important given his work shifts at various hours and a personal life centered around family. While juggling responsibilities has been challenging, his experience in the military taught him about the self-discipline he needs to juggle his roles as sergeant and student.

“It’s one of those things – you have to squeeze in whatever you need to do in whatever little time you have,” Burke says.

As an online student, his professors regularly assigned group projects, enabling him to interact with classmates around the world. Building positive relationships was particularly helpful in some of the more difficult OSU Ecampus courses, allowing him to turn to others for support and motivation as needed.

He even encountered several students who, like him, were balancing an online degree program with a military career. One classmate was stationed at a base where Burke had also once been stationed, and he became good friends with another military student even though they haven’t actually met face to face.

“We had a really, really close relationship for online students,” Burke says. “You know, I check in on him – ‘Hey man, how you doing?’ you know, ‘Stay safe out there.’ ”

A meaningful experience with lifelong benefits

Burke has applied what he learned in his online degree program to his role in the Air Force.

“For instance, learning how to identify if you’re holding too much stock, which is something that sounds completely mundane, ridiculous,” he says. “But I’ve already used it at my base.”

Burke is in the midst of submitting applications to MBA programs and plans to leave the Air Force in the next few years. Hopefully, he says, he will find a job that will enable him to keep providing for his family.

He feels that between Oregon State’s reputation and the knowledge he gained from supportive instructors in the online bachelor’s program, he will stand out when he starts applying to jobs outside the military.

“Everything I’ve learned I’ve already been using at work,” says Burke, who traveled to Oregon State’s Corvallis campus for June’s commencement ceremony. “So, I am pretty positive that I’ll be able to go get a job anywhere else and use what I learned pretty easily.”

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