Saint Leo University's distance learning option gives on-the-road Navy veteran, Rick Watson, the opportunity to earn a criminal justice degree.

Now a retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, Rick Watson had little opportunity to even think about pursuing a college degree during the 24 years he was serving in the Navy.

"With the amount of time I spent traveling and away from my family while on active duty, it was difficult for me to focus on anything beyond my day-to-day responsibilities," he said.

The precious time he did have at home with his wife, Vinnie, they gave to their two daughters, Lauryn and Meliss, watching them play field hockey, attending their drama performances, and numerous other activities.

But as any parent knows, one day you're reading your children bedtime stories and the next day their college acceptance letters. With both daughters away at school and the Post-9/11 GI Bill® making a college education for him more affordable than ever before, Watson decided his chance to return to the classroom – his first time since high school – had come.

Yet, he still found fitting time inside a classroom into his schedule a challenge. As a civilian mission support supervisor with the Department of the Navy, Watson provides operational analysis and technical support to a wide variety of naval personnel from the Virginia Beach area – which means lots of short-notice travel and overtime.

Nonetheless, in May 2010, he enrolled as a criminal justice/homeland security major at Saint Leo University's South Hampton Roads Education Center in Virginia Beach. He finishes his coursework in December and will graduate in May 2013.

Here's some insight into the reasons for his success.

Why did you choose Saint Leo University?

I have an ever-changing work schedule and a lot of short, travel trips that make it impossible to commit to on-site classes three or four nights a week. Saint Leo offered me the best situation for obtaining a degree. The Distance Learning and semester scheduling fit perfectly into my lifestyle.

Additionally, the university was given high recommendations from friends who have attended classes.

Having to travel so much, how did you manage to complete your coursework?

I have used a combination of Distance Learning (CD ROM) and on-site courses at NAS Oceana and JEB Little Creek in Virginia Beach to reach my degree goals.

What are the advantages of taking classes via CD ROM?

The CD ROM courses are great! I had some challenges getting the classes I needed for my degree because my work schedule did not always match up with the on-site class schedule. The Distance Learning classes offered me the best opportunity to get what I needed to keep moving forward. Being able to complete assignments without missing class time has made all the difference in the world!

Are there any challenges that come with distance learning classes?

Time management is key because you have assignments that must be submitted every week at a specific time. You have to be an independent worker. The professors are reachable by email and phone, but you don't have that face-to-face time that you do with on-site classes. And you have to be prepared to do a lot of writing! CD ROM classes are labor intensive as far as writing goes and require a significant amount of dedication to meet deadlines.

Any words of wisdom for other busy adults pursuing degrees?

Don't stop! You can achieve this goal. It is never too late to go back and obtain a degree. When I graduate in May 2013, it will be 30 years since I graduated from high school. I believe this speaks volumes for endeavoring to persevere. You are never too old or young to learn!

Are you an adult learner who is getting close to earning a degree? Do you have any tips to share with other students on how to be successful academically?

Image Credit: wurges on Flickr/Creative Commons

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at​gibill.