When Thomas Walsh graduated from his northeastern Pennsylvania high school, he headed off to Pennsylvania State University. But college proved to be too great of a challenge, and Thomas realized after his first year that it was time to take a different road. He decided to pursue a flying job in the United States Navy.
In 1984, he began his 20-year Naval career, which he spent flying in anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft—specifically, the P3C. Much of his job involved geo-intelligence. “It’s incredible work,” Thomas says. “Some of the technology we use is truly state of the art, so during that time I gained a very a specialized skill set.” When Thomas retired from the military in 2005, his skills translated into the GIS field. Today, he works as a contractor for the U.S. Army. His work takes him all over the world to different U.S. Army bases.
A lifelong goal
For many years, Thomas thought about returning to school for a bachelor’s degree, but his heavy travel schedule made it difficult. “It was on my mind to get a degree for a long time, but online learning wasn’t available when I was on active duty, and though I took classes whenever possible at various installations I was stationed, it was difficult to make a degree happen,” he says. Another difficulty for Thomas was the fact that he travels outside of the U.S. much of the time.
In 2013, Thomas finally decided it was time, and enrolled in the Bachelor of Science Geographic Information Systems program at American Sentinel University. He started out taking one class per term, but began taking two to three at a time as he got used to things. “I gained a lot of practical knowledge,” he says. “GIS is important and a part of just about every agency or organization in federal, state and local government. My skills and experience in the Navy combined with what I do today fit well with this program.”
A hard-earned accomplishment
In April 2017, Thomas graduated with the BSGIS. “Reaching that finish line was very emotional for me, because it was a goal of mine to get this degree,” he says. “The degree required a lot of hard work and sacrifice for me as well as for my wife. But it was something I wanted to do and she gave me the time and support needed to do it.”
For the June 2017 commencement, Thomas was named the recipient of the Lt. Col. Paul Capicik Outstanding Graduate Award, which is awarded to a veteran who exemplifies diligence and persistence in completing his or her studies. He graduated with a GPA of 3.95 and Summa Cum Laude honors.
For Thomas, the recognition was “just incredible.” “I tell people that completing this degree is probably the greatest achievement of my life,” he says. “It certainly was a worthwhile investment. The door is now wide open for me, job wise, in the civilian sector.”