“Keeping My Brain Active” – Interview with Donna Jones of the Rainbow Division Veterans Memorial Foundation – originally published in Excelsior Life.
Donna Jones is a military consultant for Excelsior College, working with military personnel, their spouses, and veterans who are interested in furthering their education. For Jones, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, it’s a career forged from personal experience – she is enrolled herself in Excelsior through a partnership agreement with Rainbow Division Veterans Memorial Foundation, which allows her to pursue her studies at lower tuition and fee rate.
Excelsior Life: What drew you to joining the U.S. Air Force?
Jones: I joined the Air Force when I was eighteen years old. I felt that I wasn’t yet ready for college and wanted a career. My father is retired from the Air Force so I had spent my childhood all over the world. I was born in Japan, began school on Guam, and spent the next seven years in England until my father retired and moved our family to his home state of South Carolina. My initial assignment in the Air Force was to Norton AFB in southern California. Then I was transferred to RAF Mildenhall in England where I had spent most of my childhood. It was interesting to see the Air Force first from a child’s point of view and then as an active duty service member.
Excelsior Life: What prompted you to return to school for your degree?
Jones: I took several college courses when I was in the Air Force and then completed my associate degree in 1990. I worked for twenty years as an occupational therapy assistant before taking the position as a military consultant with Excelsior College. Since I had never taken online courses, I felt it was important to enroll in a course in order to accurately describe the experience to prospective students. I initially was not planning to pursue a degree but I found that I enjoy online learning and Excelsior College accepted my military training as well as my credits from my associate degree so I decided to go ahead and finish what I started a long time ago!
Excelsior Life: How did you learn about the partnership agreement between the Rainbow Division Veterans Memorial Foundation and Excelsior?
Jones: I learned about Rainbow Division through the Excelsior College website as well as from colleagues. The partnership offers reduced rates for veterans, which makes taking online courses very affordable.
Excelsior Life: What led to your decision to choose Excelsior and the BSL degree pathway?
Jones: I chose the Bachelor of Science Liberal Arts degree because of the liberal studies option it offers. With this option I am able to have two depth areas rather than declaring a major. While most of my previous college credits are in the health sciences area, I wanted to take courses in subjects that currently interest me so my two depth areas are psychology and sociology.
Excelsior Life: Had you ever taken an online course before? If not, did you experience any trepidation around the idea?
Jones: When I went to college in the 1980s online courses were not an option. I had some trepidation about the length of time it had been since I had taken any college courses and well as using technology rather than the old fashioned way of learning – sitting in a classroom. I also wasn’t sure how the interaction between the instructor and other students would take place.
Excelsior Life: Now that you have taken a few courses with Excelsior, what are your impressions?
Jones: This is actually the third course I have taken from Excelsior College. After taking the first one out of curiosity more than anything, I found that I enjoyed it so much that I enrolled in the college and continued to take courses. The three courses I have taken are all upper level and not easy by any means, but they are challenging in a way that I enjoy. I am 51 years old and it makes me feel good to keep my brain active. Learning new things at my age is very interesting and rewarding.
Excelsior Life: What do you anticipate being the biggest challenges to securing your degree? Do you have a support system in place?
Jones: The biggest challenge to securing my degree is time. With the eight week class format I have to make sure that I will be available every week to participate in the class discussions and complete my assignments. If I know I will be out of town for an extended period of time or have a lot of other obligations during the eight weeks that the course is offered I have to wait until the next semester to take the course. My personal support system is my family, but Excelsior College also offers a lot of support to students and military personnel and veterans in particular.
Excelsior Life: What does the future hold for Donna Jones? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Jones: My future? Well, I wish I had a crystal ball. I imagine I will pursue a master’s degree after I complete my bachelor’s degree because I would miss the experience of learning otherwise.
Excelsior Life: Any advice for other veterans on the fence about returning for their degree?
Jones: I have a friend who is an Iraqi war veteran who was very much on the fence about completing his degree. Besides never having taken online courses before, he was concerned about being able to focus and concentrate due to PTSD and a TBI he obtained in Iraq. He enrolled in Excelsior College and told me that it was actually a great experience for him and it helped him with the injuries he had received because it made him focus on what he was learning. By the way, he graduated last month. My advice to other veterans is to pick one course that is something you are interested in and give it a try – like me, you might get addicted!
Donna L. Jones, Air Force veteran