Military Members Embracing Online Advanced Public Health Degrees

Kent State’s College of Public Health is a leader in offering fully online degree programs aiding those who serve and all non-traditional students

Active military members are embracing online master’s degree programs in Kent State University’s College of Public Health for the flexibility and ease with which they can earn an advanced degree. 

Kent State has been nationally recognized for its student support and has been voted a military-friendly school for 14 years in a row.

Alexus Kellow, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, currently serving in Daegu, South Korea, started her online master’s program in August 2023. Aside from being her alma mater – she earned her bachelor’s in public health in 2021 – Kent State’s program was the best for her being stationed abroad.

Sonia Alemagno
Sonia Alemagno

“Kent State really checked all the boxes for me, because when I looked at other master’s programs, a lot of them weren’t fully online and I would have had to come in at some point in person,” she said.

Kent State also offered Kellow a concentration in social and behavioral sciences that she was seeking and advisors in the college made the admission process quick and easy for her. 

“To know that Kent State offered this online was very helpful,” Kellow said.

Sonia Alemagno, Ph.D., dean of the college, said public health degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels are offered fully online. The college, she said, had many target groups in mind when it decided to offer courses online in addition to traditional classroom settings, but only recently have administrators been seeing just how well the program works for those in the military. 

“This allows them to be wherever they need to be, anywhere in the world, and still participate in our program,” Alemagno said.

While she anticipates completing her military service in May, Kellow is still considering working abroad to focus on a career in global health, and her online master’s coursework will continue no matter where she ends up.

Online courses, she said, are convenient. As an undergraduate student living on the Kent Campus, Kellow took some online courses because they helped her to manage her busy schedule that included a job and ROTC. 

“Having that option was so helpful because I had a heavy workload, which is another reason why I knew I could come back to Kent and I could be confident that I could still have a really good education and still be able to manage it,” Kellow said. “All the professors that I have interacted with have been very understanding and very helpful.”

Kent State graduate student Alexus Kellow, front left, is pictured with her battalion in South Korea.
Alexus Kellow, standing front row, far left, is shown with her battalion. Kellow, a 2021 Kent State graduate, is earning her master's degree in public health online from her station in South Korea.

Kellow, originally from Massillon, Ohio, participated in Kent State’s ROTC program and was commissioned upon graduation. She has been stationed in South Korea for more than two years, where she works as a logistics officer for a combat sustainment support battalion. 

Her job is administrative with an emphasis on logistics: managing the soldiers and their training and overseeing the maintenance of equipment and transportation to make sure the battalion is always ready to roll. “Our job is to help support the rest of the people on the peninsula,” she said. 

Alexus Kellow, seated far left, with her battallion.
Alexus Kellow, a Kent State graduate student, is shown here, front row left, with her battalion. A second lieutenant, Kellow is stationed with the U.S. Army in South Korea.


While her military service is not in public health, Kellow said she is often able to observe how the practice of her military job would transfer into public health situations. As she nears the end of her three-year enlistment, Kellow had been thinking about how she would use her public health degree after the military and decided that she wanted to take her education to a higher level.

“I always wanted to go back to school but was nervous because I wasn’t sure what the workload would be,” Kellow said. “After I had been here a while and I had really learned my job and how to manage my time and job I felt like I was able to add something else to my plate.”

Mark Honsberger, a sergeant in the Ohio Army National Guard, recently earned his master's degree in epidemiology online from Kent State's College of Public Health.
Mark Honsberger serving with the National Guard.

The online master’s program has been equally convenient for Mark Honsberger, who resides in Northeast Ohio. He earned his undergraduate degree in public health from Kent State in 2017 and earned his master’s degree in clinical epidemiology (one of two Masters of Public Health options) in December 2023. 

He started at Kent State in 2012 as an undergraduate majoring in photojournalism but changed his major three times before finding his fit in the College of Public Health. At the same time, Honsberger joined the Army ROTC and the Ohio Army National Guard. After about three years, he decided the officer's track with ROTC was not right for him, but he stayed in the National Guard, where he has served for nearly 12 years and holds the rank of sergeant. 

After graduating, Honsberger decided to continue taking classes at Kent State, to complete courses he needed to apply to the Army’s physician’s assistant program. Honsberger was accepted into the program but chose not to begin, to pursue medical school instead. 

Mark Honsberger, shown her at his 2017 Kent State graduation, recently earned his master's degree online from the College of Public Health, while balancing work for the VA and Ohio National Guard service.
Mark Honsberger at his 2017 Kent State graduation.

“I decided I would regret it if I didn’t apply to medical school,” he said. To better his chances for medical school acceptance, Honsberger chose to complete his master’s degree in public health. 

The online program works for him because it helps him fit classes into his busy schedule. In addition to the Ohio National Guard, Honsberger has been working full-time with the VA conducting clinical research, at various clinics and medical centers in Northeast Ohio.

It also has enabled him to continue his coursework, despite his service in the guard, which requires service one weekend each month and trips out of state for training several weeks each summer. “Being able to participate virtually has allowed me to continuously stay enrolled,” Honsberger said. 

Online learning, he said, saves him hours in the car driving to campus and eliminates the stress that comes with the travel. Without online learning, Honsberger said he would not yet have earned his master’s degree. 

“It wouldn’t have been possible without taking those online courses,” he said.

Alemagno said the College of Public Health was an early adopter of fully online degrees, embracing the format of learning for the flexibility it offers a variety of students. 

“We were pretty early in the process, going online,” Alemagno said. “We’ve got a well-established program.” 

The original goal was to allow students who had received an associate degree at one of the regional campuses or at a community college to be able to complete a bachelor's degree online, knowing that many of them were already working and needed the schedule flexibility that online learning provides. “That’s how we began offering a bachelor’s 100% online,” she said.

Since then, Alemagno said, the college realized that many populations benefit from the availability of online courses, particularly those in the military, who may find their careers taking them across the globe. 

The entire college is built on a concept known as “pathways to public health,” because it is such a broad field and people enter it through numerous ways. 

Alemagno said the online master’s degree programs are designed for working professionals, who are looking for specific public health training. For example, a nurse or biologist who began working for a public health department may desire more advanced public health expertise than they received in their undergraduate field.

The master’s online programs are designed with part-time students in mind, offered in half-semester modules, to allow students to focus on just one course at a time, finish it, and move on to the next, Alemagno explained. Courses also are offered over 12 months, not the typical nine-month academic year for added convenience. 

Public health faculty, too, strive to be understanding when issues arise in their students’ lives that result in them having to disrupt their education. 

“Our faculty also are aware that life happens to adults, particularly those who are in the military, and we have to have some flexibility,” she said. 

POSTED: Monday, February 12, 2024 01:12 PM
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2024 07:44 AM
Lisa Abraham
Kent State University/Alexus Kellow/Mark Honsberger