In 2012, Pennsylvania resident Carolyn McCormick decided her career in television was not right for her.
Eager for a change and short on funds, she decided to join the United States Navy and use the education benefits to earn a graduate degree in the field of information technology. This spring, after five years of taking classes while being an active duty service member (then a member of the Navy reserves) and working full time in a new career, she earned a master’s of science in computer science from the J.B. Speed School of Engineering.
“I knew I wanted something in the IT field,” she said. She was also laser-focused on avoiding student debt: “I did not want to spend money out of my own pocket to go back to school.” In addition, she wanted to attend a well-known, accredited public university that matched the military tuition assistance rate for graduate-level students, a rarity even today.
UofL met all her criteria.
In the Navy, Petty Officer McCormick worked in information warfare. After returning from a deployment to the Middle East aboard the U.S.S. Mesa Verde (LPD19), where she had the chance to travel to countries such as Israel and the United Arab Emirates, she began taking UofL online classes in 2014.
She is graduating debt-free, and never once set foot in Louisville — even taking classes while stationed in Seoul, South Korea. She landed a job with Oracle last year, before she graduated.
“This program helped me get a job,” she said. “When I got out of the military in July 2018, I had no professional experience working for an IT company. All I had was this education.”
While in school, she attended all her classes virtually, viewing her lectures from a camera set up in the back of the classroom. “I felt like I was taking on-campus courses,” she said, adding that she wanted the kind of rigorous coursework that is not always found in all-online degrees. “The workload was exactly the same as somebody who was sitting in the classroom.”
While stationed in Seoul, she said her professors graciously made accommodations for the 12- to 13-hour time difference. Professors were equally accommodating when a family emergency threatened to interrupt her education last fall, and the COVID-19 shift to all online classes that began in March was barely a blip on her radar screen.
Petty Officer McCormick said she hopes to participate in the December commencement exercises — the timing actually works out better for her — and hopes her family in Pittsburgh can join her in Louisville for the event. But if it doesn’t work out, that doesn’t change her feeling of accomplishment.
“At the end of the day, I’m proud of the degree that I hold,” she said.
Not surprisingly, she’s already looking into the possibility of taking more online UofL classes in the future, with an eye toward getting a cybersecurity certificate.