UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Neferteri Strickland was born into the military and has made a career of it. She grew up with two parents in the military and is currently a second lieutenant in the Pennsylvania National Guard. And now she’s getting her master’s degree online from Penn State in the hope of advancing her career.
That career started in high school, when Strickland enlisted in the Georgia National Guard as a computer information systems operator and analyst during her senior year after her parents retired and the family moved back to the United States from being stationed overseas.
“When we came stateside, it was a big adjustment,” she said. “A lot of the resources we have today weren’t there. I was looking for direction.”
She then went on to join the junior ROTC and was recruited into their pilot’s program. She says that she had a pilot’s license before a driver’s license.
“The military has provided me with every opportunity, from education to flight training,” she said. “It just feels like home.”
She went on to earn her bachelor of arts in mass communication and media studies from Savannah State University and spent the early part of her career as a radio announcer and operations assistant, where she gained much more than just learning how to talk on the radio.
“I gained a lifetime’s worth of marketing and operations experience, and public speaking comes easy,” she said. “Unfortunately for radio, I outgrew the lifestyle. Fortunately for me, I was able to reinvent myself. I found my calling.”
That calling was found through the Signal Corps, where she helps to develop, test and manage communications and information systems support for the military. There, she discovered her desire to learn more about cybersecurity, and soon she began pursuing a master of professional studies in information sciences, cybersecurity and information assurance online through Penn State World Campus.
“Communications is my job function and cybersecurity is the fastest growing career field with the biggest skills gap,” she said. “It is a perfect marriage.”
Strickland started the program in January 2018, at the beginning of a nine-month deployment in the Middle East. Even though she’s halfway across the world, she felt that this was a good time to start pursuing her advanced degree.
“My life ordinarily with my children and job and commute wouldn’t allow me to start a program easily,” she said. “With my deployment, I don’t have to make dinner or spend an hour in traffic. It was a good time to start and focus on the program.”
Though her family now considers Pennsylvania home, Strickland’s decision to pursue her degree through Penn State was based primarily on the outstanding reputation of the program. And, she said, the recommendation of her fellow soldiers helped her to decide on Penn State World Campus.
“In the short time I have been in theater I have crossed paths with current students, proud parents and alumni of Penn State University. That speaks volumes to me,” she said. “Even though I am out of the country and on the go, World Campus has allowed me to become a part of the Penn State community.”
While she benefits from the flexibility of being able to take her courses online and doing classwork when her schedule allows, she said that balancing a military deployment and being a student is no easy task.
“My day job requirements change, sometimes by the moment, to meet the needs of my mission,” she said. “Often times I am listening to assigned lectures on the treadmill, or working on a homework assignment well after midnight. I do what I have to do to be successful.”
Strickland says she knows the education she’s gaining through Penn State World Campus will advance her career. She plans to finish her degree next fall and to then move into information technology and risk project management.
“With [my MPS] program designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence, my coursework is preparing me to not only bridge my military skills in the civilian sector but equipping me with a deeper technical understanding, enabling me to have a wider scope to meet employers’ requirements to oversee and govern their network and risk management programs.”