When Shaylene Caffey was a little girl, one of her favorite things to do was get out the atlas and plan out her family’s road trips.
“Most teenagers had posters of heartthrobs on their walls; I had maps all over mine,” Shaylene admits. “I think I loved GIS before I even knew there was GIS.”
After growing up in northwestern Missouri, Shaylene enlisted in the United States Army at age 18 to fulfill her passion for making an impact. She chose a job in military intelligence at first, but when she found out that she could work with maps, she jumped at the chance. Shaylene became a terrain analyst for a year and a half before being discharged in fall 2005 due to a hip injury.
From Career to Motherhood
Later that year, Shaylene and her new husband and baby girl moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to be near family. There, she landed a role as a GIS technician for a large oil pipeline, creating land parcel files for all 1,200 miles of the pipeline. Several years into the job, she decided she wanted to go to school and came across American Sentinel University, one of the only colleges offering an online bachelor’s degree in GIS.
“With the help of the GI Bill and the flexibility that American Sentinel provided, it just fit into our family’s life,” says Shaylene, who started her B.S. Information Science (GIS specialization) in February 2009 and became pregnant with her second child later that year. “American Sentinel’s platform was easy to use, and getting an education was portable. I could take my college anywhere.”
Challenges Along the Way
In early 2010, Shaylene was laid off and she and her husband decided that she would stay home with their two young children—and focus on school. But the down economy had a major impact on Shaylene’s husband, a machinist, who had also been laid off several times.
Despite financial and other challenges, Shaylene was determined—and had her husband, her mom and her student success advisor, Cheyenne, cheering her on. “I was going to get my degree,” she says. “I want an education for myself, but I also see this as an opportunity I’ve been given. I was awarded the gift of education from the military, and it would be a great disservice to the people who have fought to earn that right not to pursue it.”
Victorious and Proud
In June 2012, Shaylene graduated from American Sentinel, and she and her family came to Denver so she could walk in her graduation. She is a first-generation college graduate and the only grandchild of all 25 in her family to hold a degree. But she’s not done yet. “I want my Ph.D. one day,” says Shaylene, who also will begin American Sentinel’s new Master of Geospatial Information Systems in 2013. “It might take me until age 50, but it will happen.”
Also in June, in a fortuitous turn of events, Shaylene landed a contract position in the drafting and mapping department of a water company that provides water to more than 400,000 people in the Kansas City area. As a working mom with a hard-earned degree—she had her third child in October 2011—Shaylene says she is proud to show her children what is possible with hard work and dedication. “I want them to see that women can be strong and persevere,” she says, “and I want them to know that education is so important.”