A six-year stint in the Marines took Frank Francois Jr. around the world, with postings protecting U.S. diplomats and embassy personnel in Senegal, Macedonia and Australia, as well as two years as a supply administrative chief at a Marine Corps base in Japan.

Now, only two of the seven continents – South America and Antarctica – remain unchecked on his to-visit list. But when it came time to pursue a college education using his military education benefits, Francois didn’t even need to step outside his front door. All he needed was an Internet connection.

Francois enrolled in Florida Institute of Technology’s 100% online Criminal Justice program, earning his Associate of Arts in 2013. He expects to complete his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice in fall 2015.

“I wasn’t sure how I was going to learn without being in a classroom with a professor there teaching us,” he said. “I’ve learned that online classes are on par, if not better, than taking campus classes.”

The son of Haitian immigrants, Francois spent a couple of years working in sales and marketing in South Florida before deciding to enlist.

“I’ve always had a sense of pride being part of something greater than myself,” he said.

After leaving the Marine Corps with the rank of sergeant in late 2013, Francois began working as a security officer for private security firms in Atlanta, Georgia, most recently as a CIFSO Officer contracted by the U.S. government.

“The most important factor in making the transition from military duty to civilian life is having a plan,” he said.

For Francois, that plan involves attaining a bachelor’s degree to supplement his military training and experience.

“My goal is to become a federal officer,” he said. “One of the basic requirements is to have a BA.”

We asked Francois to share some of his experiences as a student in Florida Tech’s Criminal Justice program, and reflect on the role his military service and the GI Bill® have played in his professional journey.

Q. Tell us about your background and why you decided to join the military.

Prior to joining the military I was very active in my community and within my church. My parents founded the first Haitian Baptist Church in South Florida and, of course, I was a member from birth. Basketball is a passion of mine and I starred as a shooting guard on my high school team and played for a variety of city All-Star teams, as well as Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams.

I’ve always had a sense of pride being part of something greater than myself (i.e. the church, basketball team) so joining the military was a perfect fit. It’s been a joy to travel and come into contact with the people that I have over the years.

Q. How have military benefits such as the GI Bill impacted your education and your professional and personal life?

The GI Bill has been very beneficial in my continued pursuit of completing my BA degree in Criminal Justice. After serving my country faithfully in the armed forces, I see the GI Bill as a way our country gives back to its veterans. Personally, after completing my obligated service with the Marine Corps (and having earned my AA degree using the GI Bill during that time), the transition to civilian life was made that much easier.

Q. What do you know now about military education benefits that you wish you had known at the outset of your college career?

From the beginning of my military career it was always a goal to use my GI Bill to pursue my educational goals. I now know that any remaining funds can be transferred to your spouse or your children.

Q. What skills did you develop in the military that have been important in your educational success?

One skill that has been very beneficial to my educational success is being a self-directed learner. From the onset of boot camp it is drilled into your mind that a Marine is someone who shows initiative and strives to better himself or herself every day. I feel that without self-discipline and self-motivation, taking college courses while being overseas and working full-time would be very difficult.

Q. What do you believe are the most important factors in making the transition from military duty to civilian life?

The most important factor in making the transition from military duty to civilian life is having a plan. Many of us have heard the saying, “Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail” – I could not agree more. When making the transition, most military members have grown accustomed to being on a regimen and having their lives structured for them. In the civilian world, it is up to the individual where you want your life to take you.

Without a plan set in place months prior to leaving military duty, your road to success will look unattainable.

Q. Why did you decide to advance your education through AA and BA in Criminal Justice degrees?

My goal is to become a federal officer. One of the basic requirements is to have a BA. I’m happy to say that I am less than a year away from completing my goal.

Q. How did you learn about Florida Tech’s online Criminal Justice degree program and what were the major factors in your decision to enroll?

When searching for a school to enroll in, I wanted to make sure the school was military friendly. Most universities have no idea how to deal with a student who is overseas or who speaks the military jargon that my vocabulary was full of. The VA representative at Florida Tech made it very simple when applying and made me feel welcomed.

Q. What has been your favorite class and why?

My favorite class thus far has been White Collar Crime. During this day and age of crimes being committed in suites rather than in the streets, it was an eye-opener to learn the impact that the decisions made in those conference rooms have on the surrounding society at large.

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

Taking classes online, at first, was very stressing. I wasn’t sure how I was going to learn without being in a classroom with a professor there teaching us. I’ve learned that online classes are on par, if not better, than taking campus classes. Though you miss out on the lifestyle of being a traditional college student, the class sizes are usually smaller and the professors are more than willing to chat with you online or, even in one case, I called the professor and spent a significant amount of time getting guidance.

Q. What are the most important factors in successfully balancing college coursework with your military duties, professional responsibilities and family life?

The most important factor is my family, co-workers and friends knowing that when I’m in study mode I would prefer minimal distractions, and they have been very good at allowing me to solely focus on my studies during this time. Also, they keep me accountable. It would be very easy to disregard my studies, but I know that would let them down and, most importantly, me.

Q. What are your career goals and how do you believe your Florida Tech degrees will make a difference in your professional journey?

My career goal is to become a federal officer with either the Department of State or another agency within the Department of Justice framework. My degrees from Florida Tech will add on to my extensive knowledge base of safety and security measures, internal and external security, as well as personal security that I have accumulated while serving in the military.

Q. What advice would you give to military servicemembers and veterans who are considering enrolling in an online degree program?

My advice is to take advantage of the benefits you have earned. After sacrificing your well-being for your country, it is good to know that the country you served thanks you back. Online programs are a wonderful way to complete a degree of your choosing without having to step out your front door.

Q. Who or what inspires you to succeed?

The individuals that inspire me most are my parents. They immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s and had a burning desire to better themselves, the community and the lives of their children. I feel grateful for having such great examples in my life and I continue their legacy by striving to better myself so that the next generation has positive role models to emulate.

Q. What is one fun fact about you?

I have traveled to five out of seven continents, with South America and Antarctica being the only two I have yet to visit.

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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