Thursday, March 31, 2011

Featured Learner Series: Marine Gilberto Gonzalez chooses military-friendly Peirce College to complete his degree

A self-described carefree kid, Gilberto Gonzalez started out on the traditional path of an 18-year-old as a college freshman in the fall of 2000. He soon decided to enlist in the Marines, with plans to complete summer boot camp and then resume classes in the fall.

That was the summer of 2001, and Gilberto’s plans to balance school with service changed quickly when the Twin Towers fell. For the time being, it was going to be all service.

Gilberto immediately shipped off to infantry school in North Carolina where he spent the year training before being deployed to Iraq. From 2001 to 2009, he got to see the world.

Gilberto completed two tours of duty in a combat zone and spent time in nine different countries, including trips to Japan, Norway, Mongolia, and Kosovo. In those years, Gilberto underwent a transformation -- from naive college freshman to Marine and veteran.

The Path to Peirce

Upon returning home in 2009, Gilberto received materials from Peirce College that included information about Peirce being a military-friendly school. (Peirce is fully accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, is a Yellow-Ribbon School, and is Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges-approved.)

Returning to school was always part of his plan, but Gilberto did not see himself returning to a traditional four-year university. His journey had come full circle, but he was a much different person than he was in 2001. “There are many other goals in my life,” he explained. “But as far as one I can complete now, this is the one I really want, just to show I completed college.”

After his time in the Marines, Gilberto wanted to attend a school where he could do his work and get the job done, somewhere with an environment geared more towards working adult learners. He found that environment at Peirce, where he is surrounded by classmates who have a similar sense of purpose.

“Since I’ve been here, everybody, the professors, the students, all have been great,” says Gilberto. “Everybody is respectful, they’re mature, they know what they want and they’re not wasting anybody’s time.”

This has undoubtedly been a transition for Gilberto. The friendliness and open doors of Peirce are quite the adjustment from the intensity of the Marines. Keeping a strict schedule and completing tasks is easy, but he admits that getting back into the routine of homework and writing papers is a whole new ball game.

The guidance from Peirce’s Program Advising Center has been helpful in making this transition from Marine to student. Currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with plans to graduate by spring of 2012, Gilberto’s adviser has been there with him along the way, working with him to schedule appropriate classes and making sure he is doing what’s necessary to graduate, which gives him peace of mind. Gilberto also enjoys the online services, where he can access the library and monitor his grades and homework assignments.

Gilberto’s only regret is taking a year off after his last deployment. For those coming back from deployment, he believes it is important to start your life right where you left off.

“For anybody who’s just getting off deployment and thinks that their mind is not ready, your mind is always ready,” he says. “You just have to set yourself up and focus and go back to college, start your life right where you left off. Don’t take a break. There’s always time to take a break later on!”

He also advises other veterans to take advantage of the GI Bill and other tuition resources for military members, which gives him the financial support he needs for his education at Peirce.

Today, Gilberto is still in the Reserves and living in New Jersey where he has a strong support system of friends and family. Applying his military training to his college life, he understands the concept of coming up through the ranks, and plans to work his way up in the corporate world upon finishing school.

“My life has come full circle,” he says. “I have been privileged to experience so many different cultures and personalities that the world has to offer. Now that I’m back home with a world full of knowledge and experience I intend to finish what I started as the mature adult I have become.”

The future is an open book for Gilberto. He sees himself pursuing a master’s degree someday and ultimately achieving success in the business world, but for now he’s taking it one step at a time.

“Never lose focus of your goal and take your time. I have nothing but time and so does everyone else.”