Larry Middlebrooks says he’s one of those folks who “don’t like to do things that come easy.”

Consider that a rather large understatement.

You see, the U.S. Army veteran spent a half-dozen years as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, including deployments to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. As a bomb tech, Middlebrooks was responsible for disarming and disposing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as chemical and biological weaponry.

Nor has there been anything easy or conventional about Middlebrooks’ educational journey.

A decade or so ago, he dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army. He planned to earn his degree while serving his nation and eventually land a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“And I was having so much fun seeing the world … that I never actually signed up to take college classes while I was in the military,” said Middlebrooks, who grew up in Atlanta and now makes his home in Summerville, South Carolina, a bedroom community about 20 miles northwest of Charleston that calls itself “The Birthplace of Sweet Tea.”

After leaving the military “life kind of took more or less of a downturn,” he said. He worked, partied and hung out with friends. But then he got custody of his two daughters, “and that was the point where I kind of got myself back on track.”

With education benefits available to him through the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, Middlebrooks decided to return to school.

“So, it was a personal thing for me to finish something that I began,” said Middlebrooks, who works for a South Carolina company that provides tactical and technical instruction to military and law enforcement personnel. “That’s how I got here.”

Interested in psychology since high school, he enrolled in Florida Institute of Technology’s Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology with a Concentration in Forensic Psychology program, offered 100% online.

He chose Florida Tech, in part, because he was impressed by his initial interactions with university representatives. He chose an online degree program for the flexibility of “being able to log on when I needed to do an assignment or finish coursework, and still be able to fulfill my obligations with working a full-time job and taking care of my kids.”

“I thought initially it was going to be an easy process … I’ll just log on and, you know, do an assignment and that’ll be it,” he said.

He quickly learned otherwise.

“It became a real thing to me at that point … something that I needed to put time and work into to make sure I succeeded at it.”

As he prepared to receive his diploma during commencement ceremonies on Florida Tech’s Melbourne campus in December 2014, Middlebrooks said his vision for his future remains much as it did back in high school. He’d like to work for the FBI, perhaps as a profiler, also known as a behavioral analyst.

“In the society we live in now, it’s almost a requirement that you have a college degree to progress in the world,” he said.

Middlebrooks spoke to us about his return to college, his passion for psychology and his advice for prospective students.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background.

I spent six years in the U.S. Army as an explosive ordnance disposal technician (bomb tech), was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and ended my enlistment in 2010. I am from Atlanta, Georgia, but currently live in Summerville, South Carolina, where I work as a products creator for a company called Threat Management Group. We specialize in technical and tactical training for military and law enforcement agencies, and provide training aids for both groups.

Q. Why did you decide to advance your education through a degree program offered online?

I chose to advance my education for very simple reasons. I attended Kennesaw State University for two years after high school but wasn’t able to find the drive and focus to be successful as a college student. So, in 2003, I dropped out. After my military career, I began to experience the disappointment of not finishing something I started, so I decided to enroll.

I took the online approach because I was a single parent with custody of my two daughters, so taking classes at a campus wasn’t really possible. It was convenient to find time after I put the kids to bed to log online and complete course assignments.

Q. What were the most important factors in your decision to choose Florida Tech?

The factors that played into my decision to choose Florida Tech were the interactions with staff in my initial transition phase, the degree program I wanted to focus on and the location because at the time I was living in Florida. 

Q. What was your favorite class and why?

Psychology is something that I find very interesting and I have a strong passion to learn everything I can about the field so picking one course to call my favorite is difficult. I would have to say that my applied research class would rank pretty high because it was something that I initially was not looking forward to, but by the end of the course I felt as if I learned the most from that class. There were other contenders, such as my Serial Killers course and Statistics.

Q. What surprised you most about taking an online program?

The most surprising part of taking an online program was the professionalism of the instructors and the difficulty of the course material. At first, I felt as if taking an online class versus a traditional course would be more relaxed when it came to assignment requirements and grading, but it was the complete opposite. 

Q. What was your most valuable takeaway from the program?

The feeling of accomplishing something that took me a total of 13 years to finally complete can’t be overlooked. It was valuable for me and my family to get through this together because it showed my kids that hard work is rewarded and, with dedication, you can accomplish anything.

Q. How will your Florida Tech degree make a difference in your career?

It will open up opportunities for me to move into the field that I am most passionate about and allow me to not rely solely on my military experience to find work in the civilian market. I realize that this degree is only the beginning and that additional education is necessary for me to have success in my degree field.

Q. What advice would you give other students who are considering enrolling in the program?

It is rewarding because not only do you make your work opportunities better by enhancing your education, but the material can be useful in making your life better. It won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time at the end. It was, top three, one of the best decisions I ever made.

Q. Who or what inspires you to succeed?

My wife and kids were my inspiration to keep going at the periods where life, work and school seemed to be too much to handle. School always seemed to be the first item to drop because I needed to work to support my family. With their encouragement and help to pick up some of my home slack, I was able to get the time needed to focus on what I needed to do for school.

Are you a military student or graduate of Florida Tech’s 100% online degree programs? We would love to share your success story in our Student Spotlight series. Contact us at StudentSpotlight@universityalliance.com for additional details.

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 www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

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