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Student Excels as a Marine, Master’s Student

Posted Nov. 28, 2011

By Kaitlin Krister
First Lt. Rebecca BurgessFirst Lt. Rebecca Burgess is a third-generation Marine. Her grandfather is a highly-decorated Korean veteran; all of her uncles on both of her parents’ sides served; and her parents met in the Marine Corps.

Despite all of this history, it wasn’t until her mother challenged her, at Easter dinner in 2005, that Burgess considered becoming a Marine.

“During our Easter dinner that year, somehow my mom’s experience at boot camp came up,” Burgess recalled. “I had said something like, ‘I could do that.’ To which my mom responded with something like, ‘Oh yeah? You know you can’t take your high-heeled shoes there.’”

The Easter dinner challenge motivated Burgess to research her potential future with the Marine Corps. Burgess, who was considering pursuing a law degree, found that the Marine Corps offered programs for individuals interested in law or various other careers. Immediately following this discovery, Burgess scheduled an appointment with an Officer Selections Officer (recruiter), and six weeks later she was shipped off to Officer Candidate School.

“I was excited to be commissioned into the Marine Corps and start my career after earning my bachelor’s degree,” she said. “I ended up jumping right in rather than going to law school. I haven’t looked back since then; I absolutely love being a Marine officer.”

Today, the 27-year-old Burgess is a Public Affairs Plans Officer in the Marine Corps. She is a 1st Lt. for the Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). Her daily activities revolve around media engagements, communication plans and providing public affairs guidance to the Commanding General and his staff.

As a result of her military experiences, Burgess knew that she needed and wanted to earn her master’s degree with a concentration in public relations.

“I’m not a lifer – a term used to describe someone who plans on retiring out of the Marine Corps. My goal is to accept one more set of orders –ultimately giving me about eight years experience – and then tackle the civilian world,” she said.

While Burgess’ end goal is to prepare herself for a civilian career, she doesn’t discount her military experiences as being beneficial to her future career.

“The Marine Corps has provided me with an extraordinary amount of opportunities to grow; more than I could have even wished for on the civilian side,” Burgess said. “I was given the opportunity to head my own department stateside and then while deployed to Afghanistan. I’ve worked with and established relationships with journalists and producers from places in Small Town, USA and those on the national and international stages.”

In addition to these opportunities, Burgess has also witnessed and responded to crisis situations and has been asked to give her professional opinion on matters regarding public relations. It is clear that she truly loves her job.

“I have had the privilege of teaching and learning from some of the most talented journalists, broadcasters and videographers,” Burgess said. “My Marines are the hardest workers; their dedication makes coming into work every day a pleasure.”

To leverage her military career in the civilian world, Burgess decided to earn her master’s degree with a concentration in public relations from Kent State University. She selected an online degree program from the Kent State School of Journalism and Mass Communication for several reasons.

“I looked at dozens of online programs offering public relations and communication degrees," Burgess said. “I ultimately decided on Kent State because I liked the up-to-date curriculum and the fact that it did not distinguish between an online degree and one that is earned on campus.”

She continued, “I have a very busy life, one that is completely out of my control sometimes because I’m a Marine. Earning my degree online seemed like the most practical option for me because, at the time I was deciding, I wasn’t sure when my next deployment would be. I needed flexibility.”

The majority of students who are enrolled in online education programs must balance their coursework with their job and family responsibilities. Most would assume that it would be even more difficult for active military personnel to handle the stress of being deployed. However, Burgess suggests the balancing act is not difficult.

“Being deployed just means I’ll be doing the same thing everyone else is doing just in a different country,” Burgess said. “I can argue that doing it deployed is even easier because I don’t have to balance a family life and a social life on top of it all.”

The amount of work required for the online program varies each week depending on the number of assigned readings. On average, Burgess spends two to three hours a day doing coursework. However, all of her studying has paid off.

“My biggest success in the PR online program is how much information I have learned from my fellow students,” she said. “The program is unique because it forces class participation and healthy debate.”

Burgess feels that she is prepared to handle whatever her military duties and coursework throw her way.

“After being told I was deploying again, I was assured by my professors and advisor that they would work with me during the time of transition so that the flow of my program was not interrupted,” Burgess said. “Also, despite being on a completely separate coast, I feel as though I’m being taken care of and that I am part of this university. I would highly recommend this program to others who are looking to further their education but have other obligations as well.

Burgess knows that her experiences in the field are valuable to her success in her future career, but she also knows that the job market is unpredictable. She is working to make her experience and her education align, so she can enjoy an accomplished civilian career. Thanks to her mom’s Easter challenge, Burgess has a career that she loves and a promising future in public relations.

Photo: First Lieutenant Rebecca Burgess stands at the position of attention as Major Gabrielle Chapin pins on first lieutenant bars during Burgess’ promotion ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan on Jan. 10, 2011.