BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- A Sailor visited the Navy College Office and similar to many other Sailors before her - she was certain of her goals but unsure of how to get there, she said in an interview March 19.
After spending her first year in the Navy, Airman Apprentice Marti Gardea had already been part of some of the largest humanitarian operations in history and worked on the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. But now, standing at the door of a college classroom, a completely different kind of challenge lay ahead for the young Sailor.
At 20 years old, Gardea was a few years removed from high school, but maintained the desire to learn. Now looking at more than a year in Bremerton, Wash., without having to go to sea, she was ready to walk the roads of higher education.
"I had been putting off college for a long time but my dad, who is prior military, always tells me to take everything I can get while I am serving," said Gardea. "On top of that, my chain of command was pushing me as well."
The renovated brick building that houses the Navy College Office (NCO) at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton presented the initial university atmosphere to Gardea.
"My friend and I were walking past the Navy College Office building and we thought, 'why not see what we can do?'" said Gardea. "So we went inside and talked with a Navy College education specialist who asked, 'Just what do you want to do?' I told him I simply wanted to get my degree."
Bremerton Navy College Office staff members know how nervous new students can be, especially those enrolling in college courses for the first time. With so many options, from College Level Examination Program (CLEP) or DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) to in-house classes and the tuition assistance (TA) program, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Navy College Office staff members do their best to alleviate some of the pressure and confusion.
"We always try to set new students at ease," said Gil Williams, Navy College Office site director in Bremerton. "They come in and know they want to get this process started, but don't know where to begin. We deal with that fear by letting them know it's very common and normal to feel like that, and that we're going to do our best to take care of them in fulfilling their academic goals."
Williams knows firsthand how beneficial Navy College program options can be. A retired submarine warrant officer, he previously took advantage of Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE) while underway and used Navy TA while on shore duty.
"It's important for Sailors to realize all these programs are here to help them," said Williams. "These are all voluntary programs; nobody is going to force you to do it. But if Sailors want to come over here, get some information and get motivated, we are here to help them accomplish their goals."
Gardea knew what she wanted to accomplish. "Ultimately, my goal is to be an X-ray technician, but right now I just want to focus on the basic stuff," said Gardea. "I took my placement tests, and then we looked at what classes were available."
Sailors enrolling in Navy College programs are provided various options regarding the type of instruction they receive, such as in-class or online/distance learning to figure out the best fit for each individual situation.
"One of the most valuable tools we have at our disposal is the Navy College Distance Learning Self-Assessment Tool. This tool allows Navy College staff to determine whether or not a Sailor is prepared to participate in courses via distance learning," said Williams.
"Once a determination is made as to what method a Sailor would like to use to take college classes, the main part of the process begins," he said. "In Airman Gardea's case, she really preferred to receive her initial college experience in a classroom-based environment."
As a result, NCO Bremerton recommended Gardea attend a Navy College Program Distance Learning Partner (NCPDLP) school that also has a full-time faculty and staff on board Naval Base Kitsap through a regional Memorandum of Understanding.
Required college coursework may also be supplemented with military training and experience that has been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE) that awards recommended college credit for specific military training received. This is documented on a Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript (SMART).
"It's common for some Sailors to receive a large portion of college credit earned through ACE that can be applied toward their degree," Williams said.
After having her SMART academic credit evaluated by Navy College staff and subsequently accepted by Vincennes University, Gardea decided to start classes at the beginning of the school's next term.
An additional part of the process for some schools is to administer an academic placement test to determine a student's level of knowledge in subjects like English and math. The placement tests are designed to gauge the student's existing knowledge level and make the process easier by determining which classes are better for them to enroll in and which ones they can possibly test out of by taking either a CLEP or DSST.
"I took my placement tests, and we discussed what classes were available," said Gardea. "The advisor suggested I take a CLEP test for algebra after I scored well on the math test. That's nice because now I won't be spending time on a class I don't need.
"I was hoping to take an English class right away but all the classes were already booked, so I'm starting my degree with a speech class on Wednesday nights."
Starting with one class is how Navy College academic advisors recommend students kick off their degree programs.
"With both myself and the other education specialists who work here all being prior Navy, we are also by-products of what Navy College has to offer," said Williams. "The last thing we want is for Sailors to get in over their heads."
Of course there are exceptions. Sailors who have taken college courses through the shipboard-based NCPACE, at a previous duty station, or prior to coming in the Navy may be able to handle more than one class at a time.
Now enrolled in her first class, Gardea can already appreciate how well universities that have partnered with the military to work with Sailors.
"I actually had duty on my first day of class and wasn't able to make it," said Gardea. "But they were great about it. I was able to e-mail my professor and get my assignments. Help like that really makes the programs more manageable for Sailors."
Her speech class is only the beginning, and Gardea is already excited about what is ahead in her academic future.
"Speech class has done a great job of getting me into the flow of things," said Gardea. "In just a few weeks I'll be enrolling in biology, with English to follow after that. Both Vincennes University and the Navy College Office have been extremely helpful with everything."
This is the kind of feedback Dr. Mary Redd-Clary likes to hear. As director of the Navy College Program at the Center for Personal and Professional Development, she knows the importance of individualized counseling to help Sailors reach their academic goals.
"It's important for Sailors to visit their local Navy College Office or call the Virtual Education Center to get help starting their education journey that will include a review of their SMART and the development of an Individual Education Plan tailored to them," she said. "We help Sailors not only choose the best school and program for them, we also ensure they have an Individual Education Plan on file in the Navy College Program's database so that the Sailor is eligible to use tuition assistance."
Redd-Clary pointed out that completing a degree helps Sailors on a personal level as well as career-wise. "By her initiative to start work on her education goals, Airman Gardea is taking steps to become a high-performing Sailor who thinks critically, acts responsibly and leads proactively to meet 21st Century Navy-wide mission readiness," she said. "She also sets herself up to earn promotion points upon completion of her degree, thereby improving herself personally and professionally."
Williams stressed that while Gardea is a driven student, her positive experience enrolling in classes is common to most Sailors who come through their doors.
"The Navy College Office has helped thousands of Sailors earn degrees," said Williams. "It's a big task when viewed as a whole, but we are here to help manage the entire process. The big thing is for Sailors to get down here, get the information and help they need, and they will be on their way to earning a college diploma."
Navy College supports the personal and professional growth of Sailors helping them earn degrees which help make them invaluable assets to the Navy. It's an important part of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative which consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness, build resiliency and hone the most combat-effective force in the history of the Department of the Navy.
For more news, visit www.navy.mil.