The flexibility and world-wide reach offered by Washington State University Global Campus has given rise to a unique student community that many may not be aware of—Cougs who are actively serving in the United States military.

Jenn Lewis, an enlisted Navy personnel specialist and WSU Global Campus psychology major, poses the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

“I serve for my family and the freedoms that we all enjoy,” said Jenn Lewis, who served as a US Navy personnel specialist aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz while she earned her WSU degree in psychology. Originally from Florida, Lewis gained a fondness for the Pacific Northwest during her time here. “Being stationed in Washington, I really wanted to go to a Washington school, as it has truly become my home.

Washington State University boasts a vibrant and diverse student body at five physical campuses spread across the state of Washington. The extended reach made possible by WSU’s fully online Global Campus has allowed the university to expand much further, including online students who live and work in locations spanning the country and the globe.

The number of active duty military students at WSU Global Campus increased to 3.1% of its student body in Fall 2020, up from 2.8% a year earlier. That comes to more than 120 students out of Global Campus’ overall population of roughly 4,000.

Although there are also active duty military students who choose in-person learning experiences at WSU’s physical campuses, many military Cougs see the convenience and flexibility of asynchronous online learning as an ideal option to help them achieve academic success as they actively serve.

Vladi Ivanova, an Army officer, dietician, and WSU Online MBA student, poses with a Cougar flag in front of Madigan Army Medical Center in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington State.

“I was only looking for online programs that I can complete while still serving, and WSU has provided exactly that,” said Vladi Ivanova, an Army officer and dietitian at Madigan Army Medical Center located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. “Because I am only focusing on one class at a time, I can juggle work, school, exercise and life easier than if I were taking classes in person. It is also very useful when I have to be in the field or potentially deployed for a COVID mission.”

Ivanova, originally from Bulgaria, is currently earning her MBA online from WSU’s Carson College of Business through WSU Global Campus while she serves. “I was only looking for online programs that I can complete while still serving, and WSU has provided exactly that,” said Vladi Ivanova, an Army officer and dietitian at Madigan Army Medical Center located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. “Because I am only focusing on one class at a time, I can juggle work, school, exercise and life easier than if I were taking classes in person. It is also very useful when I have to be in the field or potentially deployed for a COVID mission.”

Active duty Cougs come from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, with many being the first generation in their family to attend college. Others include service members who immigrated to the U.S., and those who belong to underrepresented groups. They vary greatly in job specialty, age and time served in the military, though most have considerable and varied life experience due to their time serving around the globe.

Troy Moya, an enlisted Air Force imagery intelligence analyst, poses with his WSU diploma in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Troy Moya, an enlisted Air Force imagery intelligence analyst, recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Global Campus.

“After I emigrated from the Philippines, I needed a lot of help in coping with the language and the new environment. Throughout my academic career from middle school up until today, there have been a lot of individuals who made sure that I am successful. I wanted to give back to the community and country that has given me so much, and that is why I decided to serve in the military,” said Moya. “I chose WSU Global Campus because it is a respected institution. The staff within the Global Campus were also extremely accommodating and understanding of the circumstances I have as a military member.”

Military members enroll at WSU Global Campus for many reasons. Some are enlisted soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, or coastguardsmen who are seeking their first college degree, while others are officers seeking a graduate degree to enhance their qualifications in preparation for a future civilian career. Some see their GI Bill and military tuition benefits as a great opportunity for self-improvement. No matter their distinct journeys and future life goals, all are seeking to improve themselves through higher education.

Moya chose to pursue his degree to help him advance in his current military career.

“As an active duty service member, earning my degree was essential in increasing my analytical capabilities,” he said. “It has allowed me to express my thoughts in a coherent and informed way that is rooted in facts. Further, earning a degree is a requirement to apply to be an officer and will allow me to increase the impact that I have in the Air Force.”

Taler Brazil, an Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot and online MBA student in the Carson College of Business, wanted to improve herself and plans to use her WSU degree to pursue her passion after her military career.

“After flight school, I felt like I needed to push myself and grow in a different way. Especially being junior in my position, I saw the MBA as a route to continue learning as a leader and a student,” said Brazil, who earned her undergraduate degree from West Point military academy. “My ultimate goal is to transition out of the military and start my own nonprofit that helps soldiers with shelter animals.”

“I looked at a large pool of schools, and WSU had everything I was looking for. The combination of being able to start right away and the fact that they are very military friendly was the ultimate reason I chose WSU … I’ve been really happy I have made that decision.”

WSU has gained a reputation for being military friendly by providing outstanding support to both those who are serving and those who have served. This is evidenced by U.S. News and World Report’s recognition of WSU Global Campus’ Bachelor’s degrees and online MBA programs through the Carson College of Business among the nation’s Best Online Programs for Veterans in 2020. Other examples of WSU’s commitment to Cougs who serve exist across the entire university system.

The University’s Office of Veterans Affairs serves Global, Pullman, Spokane and Everett campus military-affiliated students, while the Vancouver and Tri-Cities campuses have their own Veterans Affairs offices. This commitment also can be seen at the individual college level, such as the Carson College of Business’s hiring of a Military and Veteran Affairs manager, while an impressive 10% of the students currently enrolled in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine are military vets.

Travis Finborg, an enlisted Air Force explosive ordnance technician and WSU Global Campus history major, poses in front of a remote-controlled bomb diffusing robot while deployed to Al Udied Air Base in Qatar.

“The VA office has really helped me navigate the ins and outs of using the GI Bill,” said Travis Finborg, an Air Force explosive ordnance technician and online history major.  “The advisors and professors have also been very helpful and understanding when I needed extra time due to military commitments.”

“I travel plenty as part of my duties,” Finborg explained. “I also recently deployed. I was able to continue taking classes through all of that. I have found online classes are perfect for me.”

“The VA office has really helped me navigate the ins and outs of using the GI Bill,” said Travis Finborg, an Air Force explosive ordnance technician and online history major.  “The advisors and professors have also been very helpful and understanding when I needed extra time due to military commitments.” 

“Education is one of the greatest benefits the military provides,” affirmed Finborg. “To be able to walk away with a degree with no debt, thanks to the tuition assistance and the GI Bill, is such a great benefit.”

WSU Global Campus offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in more than 30 different disciplines. Additional information about WSU Global Campus can be found at online.wsu.edu or by calling 1-800-222-4978 or emailing online@wsu.edu. The WSU Office of Veterans Affairs, 509-335-1234 or veterans@wsu.edu, can provide additional information about military and veteran educational benefits.