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From the Navy to the online classroom: An Ecampus student’s journey

Laura Micewski poses in front of an American flag and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission crest.

Laura Micewski was looking for fulfillment at work, and she wanted her GI Bill to help. Then she found Oregon State’s Radiation Health Physics program online.

Self-discipline gained in the military helps radiation health physics student balance a master’s program and full-time job

By Jordan Friedman

In many ways, spending more than 10 years in the U.S. Navy helped prepare Laura Micewski for her time as an online student at Oregon State University Ecampus.

The self-discipline and time management skills Micewski gained as a naval officer became invaluable when, a decade after leaving the Navy, she started juggling an online master’s program in radiation health physics with a full-time job at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Working different commands in the Navy also “tends to give you an open mind,” says Micewski, now a nuclear engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy. This helped her adapt quickly to the interdisciplinary nature of the Oregon State master’s program, where she studied a variety of familiar and new topics ranging from radiophysics to nuclear regulations.

“You have people who served in the Navy or in the military — they probably moved around a lot, they probably served in a lot of different commands,” says Micewski. “The whole idea of, ‘You learn something and then you master it, and then shift gears and go learn something new,’ I think that’s conducive to any kind of higher education.”

Micewski found ample support in the online radiation health physics program, both as a military veteran and a career-driven student. The program has a track record of opening doors to career fields like engineering, policy, environmental protection and nuclear power.

Looking for a new challenge

While serving as a senior resident inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Micewski decided to study a discipline where she could apply the knowledge she gained from nearly three decades working on nuclear power ships, aircraft carriers and submarines.

While searching for a degree program, she decided to broaden her horizons by pursuing a field she knew less about. She wanted a new challenge.

Oregon State’s radiation health physics program met both of those criteria and, she believed, could help her on the path to achieve her ultimate career goal: a position at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria. As an added incentive, Micewski realized she could leverage her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to help her pay for a second master’s degree.

“After feeling around for the best way to prepare to apply for a job like that in the next few years, (I realized) having the health physics background is really advantageous,” she says.

She chose Oregon State Ecampus thanks to its flexibility, with very few on-campus requirements and the ability to complete coursework around her own schedule. This was essential because life at the NRC was far from a typical 9-to-5 gig.

Micewski was, like many military personnel, working nearly around the clock.

“My schedule was a little unpredictable sometimes because I was really just basing my work hours on what was going on at the plant,” she says. “It was really nice to be able to (study) at my own convenience when the time was right for me.”

A supportive learning environment

Once Micewski enrolled at OSU, she discovered a welcoming and supportive military community, even for Ecampus students around the world who couldn’t travel to campus to meet classmates in person. As a student, she had opportunities to interact with other veterans regularly, whether for advice or just to introduce herself to her peers, she says.

“Through [the Ecampus] online platform, there are little groups — there’s a women’s vet support group and a veteran support group,” she says. “We all get monthly emails from the veterans center.”

To help the veteran achieve her career goals, Micewski’s academic advisor shared travel grant opportunities for graduate students. As a result of those conversations, Micewski attended a one-week course at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico with three other Oregon State students.

In another instance, she participated in a weeklong program where she visited a fuel fabrication plant in Germany, a uranium enrichment plant in the Netherlands and the IAEA labs in Vienna.

“All of the staff, all of the professors — they’re not just teaching you their class,” Micewski says. “You’re not just going through the motions of learning the material and then you’re done. They’re really engaged and interested in what you seem interested in, and how can they help you take what you’re learning and apply it to either further your education or further your professional work.”

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