Military spouses strive for balance while they finish their degrees
Being a military spouse is a challenge under any circumstances, but those challenges increase a hundredfold if you’re also trying to complete your degree while simultaneously balancing all the demands of running a military household. The task of managing family, work, military life (which often includes having a spouse deployed overseas) while also pursuing higher education might seem daunting, but several University of Phoenix students are doing it successfully. Not only that, they make it look easy.
Christina D. Foley is married to an active-duty Army reservist who is currently deployed in Iraq. A mother of two young children, Foley works as a school bus driver while parenting her children solo, managing a household — and pursuing her associate’s degree in Criminal Justice.
How does Foley juggle so many responsibilities? “I just do it,” she says. “I have a set schedule. Monday through Thursday I drive the school bus from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., I get my kids to school, and I do my schoolwork in the break in between my morning and afternoon drive shifts. In the late afternoon I take care of my kids, help them with their homework, get them fed and into bed. I do household chores on Friday and Saturday, which are my days off. I take classes online in the evening when my kids are in bed, and I do my reading for class on Sundays.”
Foley doesn’t just juggle her own family responsibilities, either — she also looks after her elderly neighbor (and she isn’t paid for it). “I take him to the store, to the doctor, wherever he needs to go. He has dementia, he has no family, and it’s very hard for him. My husband and I don’t have parents living, so we’ve kind of adopted him.”
It’s that kind of community-service mindset that drove Foley to pursue higher education despite the challenges posed by being a military wife and mother with her husband on deployment. “I want to work as a paralegal supporting an attorney who specializes in domestic law,” Foley says. “I’ve been focusing on domestic law issues because I’ve seen too many cases where women in domestic-violence situations are being killed, and the justice system isn’t protecting them the way it should. I want to help change that.”
Foley is well on her way to doing just that; she expects to finish her degree within a year. She offers this advice to other military spouses considering higher education: “Keep an organized schedule, and find even one hour of quiet time whenever you can,” she says.
Sheoah L. Hardy is another military spouse who is balancing her personal responsibilities with higher education. Her husband is an active-duty Navy diver who is frequently out on deployment, including dangerous sea and combat missions. A “military brat” herself (Hardy’s father was in the Air Force), this mother of three is very familiar with the challenges a military life can bring. “I have moved every two years or so for pretty much my entire life,” she says. “I lived in Italy, Montana, Florida, England and Nebraska as a kid. It made education hard for me growing up. I really struggled with school when I was younger because I moved all the time and the school systems were so different from one place to another. And now with my husband’s career we move every two to three years.”
Hardy’s personal experience as a military child as well as a military parent herself led her to pursue higher education at University of Phoenix. “Military children need special support in both wartime and peacetime,” she says. “They move around a lot, their parents can be gone for months or years at a time, and in wartime there’s always a question of whether Daddy’s coming home at all. I wanted to make a difference in military kids’ lives, so I decided to become a counselor that specializes in military families.”
Having already completed her associate’s degree at University of Phoenix’s Axia College, Hardy began her bachelor's degree studies in Human Services/Management at University of Phoenix in April 2009. Her ultimate career goal is to set up a private counseling practice, but Hardy plans to get some experience working in civilian positions on military bases first. “In order to have a private practice, I’ll eventually need to pursue a master’s degree and get licensure,” she explains. “But I can use my bachelor’s degree in other positions first.”
Hardy’s family life is what inspires her in her studies. “We move every three years, plus with my husband out on deployment, it’s really hard on my kids,” she says. “My kids need stability, and I try to be the main source of stability in their lives. Pursuing my education at University of Phoenix and having long-term career goals as a counselor is one way I do that.” And higher education is a family affair in the Hardy household; her Navy diver husband is currently pursuing his master’s degree in the Criminal Justice Administration program at University of Phoenix.
Another military couple who make pursuing their degrees at University of Phoenix a family affair are Gregory T. and Jennifer P. Study, who are both pursuing their bachelor's degrees in Business Administration while juggling the responsibilities and demands of active-duty military life. Master Sergeant Gregory T. Study is a career Army enlisted man with 21 years of service; he has worked in various military human resources management positions throughout his Army career. His wife Jennifer is currently a homemaker and University of Phoenix student, who also spent several years working as a paralegal in the U.S. Attorney General’s office in Washington State.
Sgt. and Mrs. Study definitely live up to their namesake — they have spent a great deal of time studying and analyzing their best career paths, and then making action plans accordingly. “Part of our decision to do this was just driven by the economy,” says Jennifer Study. “We needed to have some viable career options for ourselves once Gregory retires from the military, and we also wanted a combination of stability and opportunity.”
Both Master Sgt. Study and his wife want to pursue civilian staff positions in the federal government when he retires from the Army, but they also both realize additional education is necessary to realize that dream fully. “I want to keep doing what I do in the Army (i.e., human resources specialist in equal-opportunity policy) once I get out,” says Master Sgt. Study. “I have the credentials to do it in the military, but the credentials are different in the civilian world, and I need to prepare for that.”
Jennifer Study’s decision for pursuing her bachelor’s degree is along the same lines. “I have experience working for the federal government already, but I want a position where I can move both horizontally and vertically within the various government agencies, and having the business degree can allow you to move even further,” she says.
Like other military family students, the Studys work very hard to juggle their many responsibilities. While Master Sgt. Study works in various aspects of military human resources (such as evaluation reports, awards, promotions and equal-opportunity compliance), Mrs. Study manages the household, serves as primary caregiver to their teenage daughter, and pursues her studies. “It’s not easy being a military family,” she says. “You move a lot. Housing is an issue, too — we once spent two months living in temporary lodging, which is basically a hotel room. The advantage of studying at University of Phoenix is I can go to school wherever I have an Internet connection, which is great given the military lifestyle.”
When asked how the Study household manages to juggle so many responsibilities, Master Sgt. Study puts it simply: “Bottom line is, it’s hard for any family. You’ve just got to have a plan.” And the Studys do have a plan — they’ve even scheduled their respective classloads so that Jennifer graduates in time to have her civilian career well underway when her husband retires from the Army, so he can devote all his attention to both his studies and transitioning from soldier to civilian life. “Education is important to pursue whenever you have the opportunity,” Master Sgt. Study says. “I preach this to the soldiers under my care, and I practice what I preach.”