Jugglers are known for easily balancing some of the most random items you can imagine. Saint Leo University criminal justice student Tim Robinson is just as talented at balancing a military career, fatherhood and his online degree programs.

At 33, he originally hails from Long Beach, N.Y. He now calls Jacksonville, Fla. home where he is stationed in the U.S. Navy. He and his wife, Mary Divine, have a four-year-old son, Gerry.

Nailing Down a Navy Career

An alumnus of Long Beach High School in New York, Robinson officially enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 2010.

"I always wanted to serve my country," he says. "I especially felt like I needed to serve after 9/11 happened.  But after High school, I went to college and became a volunteer firefighter. A few years later, a friend who was a New York City firefighter got sick. So, I thought it was time for me to pursue my calling."

His dad, grandfather and an uncle all served in the Army, and he's had relatives in the Navy and the Marines.

Robinson served in Sasebo, Japan for three years. He was also at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and now works out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville in northern Florida.

The first class petty officer is a religious programs specialist. He talks about the variety of important hats he wears in this role.

"I assist chaplains by supporting Navy sailors and Marines," he explains. "Right now, I do personal development, marriage enrichment retreats for military spouses, family enrichment retreats, suicide prevention programs and personal resiliency support. This is very rewarding work because I get to make a positive impact on others."

He wouldn't trade his military service for anything.

"It's been a great experience," he confides. "I enjoy serving my country and there is a lot of camaraderie among those I've served with."

In 2017, a deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to help victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria made a big impact on him. That's because his house was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy five years earlier.

"Doing disaster relief work was so meaningful because of what happened to my hometown," he says.

The chaplain corps includes both the Navy and Marine Corps, which is why he's been involved in both branches.

He explains the benefits of a military career.

"It's definitely a great opportunity. You'll make friends that will last a lifetime. It's a second family to me. You will get to visit places you never thought you'd see. Plus, you can get a college degree with the benefits they offer."

Turning to Saint Leo University

Robinson had attained 60 credit hours of college coursework toward a criminal justice degree at another institution prior to enlisting in the Navy.

"I knew I always wanted to finish this degree," he says. "When I'd come back from deployments, I felt a calling to help others in my community."

So, one day, he started researching potential universities and came across Saint Leo University. It was ranked as a top institution for active-duty and veteran students by the Military Times. The religious roots of Saint Leo were also a big selling point for him.

"I'm Catholic and there weren't many other Catholic schools on their list. I also researched their Benedictine traditions and core values. So, I contacted them and spoke to an enrollment counselor. They told me about their online degree programs and how they have online clubs so students can better connect with others. This was great to hear because I was a little hesitant about online programs, not knowing how I'd meet other students."

He also liked the fact that the school has a career services office and a military affairs office, both of which help students transition from a life in the armed forces to being a civilian with gainful and purposeful employment.

In August 2017, he enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice program at Saint Leo University. He completed this online degree program in the fall of 2018.

He is now working toward Saint Leo's Master of Science in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Criminal Investigations.

Dr. Phillip Neely, Nancy Santiago and Jeffrey Golden have made a big impression on his academic success, he says.

"Every time I fill out an end-of-course evaluation about my instructors, I am honestly always saying, 'This was the best class I've ever had.' All of the criminal justice faculty are amazing. I loved the idea of being taught by faculty with practical experience rather than just reading out of a book."

Dr. Angela Manos, a professor we highlighted in this article, has also stood out to him.

"She is a veteran herself and is very inspirational," he says. "I could really relate to her."

An Eye-Opener to Online Degree Programs

According to Robinson, the two online degree programs he has enrolled in with Saint Leo University were much more engaging than he initially expected.

"The online experience has been so much better than I ever expected. I didn't think I'd get the chance to have much interaction with others. Both the undergrad and grad programs have had lots of interaction through phone, e-mail and discussion boards. When you e-mail a professor, you know you'll get a response within 24 hours. Saint Leo does a lot to make online students feel part of the university."

Not only did Robinson get to attend the commencement ceremony at University Campus upon finishing up his online bachelor's degree, but he also got to deliver the commencement address.

"Before I came to Saint Leo, I had always been an average student. But thanks to the support of the professors, I've become a much better one."

He saw the opportunity to submit a speech for consideration, not thinking he had any chance at all. The next thing he knew, he was a finalist delivering the speech on a video conference call and then was chosen to give it at the commencement ceremony on April 27.

"I had spoken in front of decent-size crowds before, but this was the largest by far," he says. "I got an amazing response and received several e-mails from faculty afterward saying how great it was. This was a truly humbling experience. I wanted it to represent the university and how I feel about it, so I hope it did."

He plans on wrapping up his online master's degree program in the spring of 2020 and is seriously considering Saint Leo's Doctor of Criminal Justice (DJ) degree as well.

"Education is such an important thing. Now that I'm this far into it, I'd like to pay it forward by getting my doctoral degree so I can teach others."

In terms of the Navy, he plans to wrap up his military service in November of 2020 and reach the 10-year mark. His goal is to work for a sheriff's office doing criminal investigations.

He offers up some wise words to current military members who are considering pursuing a college degree.

"My best advice is to associate with the winners," he says. It's important that you talk to the people who've gone through balancing their military jobs and education, especially your officers. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember that getting a college education is a professional thing to do, no matter what your job is in the military.  Your officers are educated, and if you want to be able to move up, getting your degree can really help you bring more to the table."

Solid Connections

In addition to the academic programs, Robinson has enjoyed the online groups he has also been a part of at Saint Leo. He is currently editor of The Voice newsletter, which is produced by the Student Communications Club.

"I've always enjoyed writing. I thought it would be nice to get into the habit of writing things outside of my classes and getting to write about things I wanted to instead of just being assigned topics in my courses."

The first article he wrote was about his deployment to help hurricane victims, which ran in the October 2017 edition of The Voice.

"When I was offered the chance to be editor, I thought we could expand this newsletter a little bit and do student and faculty spotlights. I think it's nice to make others aware of who is enrolled in the online degree programs and also who is teaching in them."

He is also a member of the Criminal Justice Association, Military and Family Club and the Student Peer Mentoring Club.

"These clubs definitely help for networking," he says. "It's nice to connect with others who are going through similar things in their lives so you can all talk about how to be a better student."

Based on conversations with others, he believes Saint Leo University has found a niche in its online degree programs.

"I've talked to lots of other military members doing online degree programs at other schools. None of them say they have as much support and the type of community Saint Leo offers. So, my ultimate goal is to get Saint Leo University to be known as the best university for all military students."

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog post were provided by Tim Robinson and are used with permission.