Earning a college degree is no easy task on its own, but try doing so in a home where the children outnumber the parents 2-to-1. Add a full-time active-duty U.S. Air Force profession into the mix, and you’ve got an idea of what it’s like for Brandon Deusenberry. Brandon is a 37-year-old UF Online geography graduate who has plenty of insight on balancing the expectations of earning a college degree with a demanding profession and a busy household.
“My boys see me doing my homework all the time and they’ll ask ‘Why are you doing all of this homework? What’s this for?’ I’ll show them some of my courses and they’re like ‘That’s cool.’ As long as I balance time for them too, they’re happy.”
NEED FOR FLEXIBILITY LEADS TO GEOGRAPHY GATOR
Brandon’s college journey began when he enrolled at the University of West Florida while living in Pensacola, Florida. Before moving with his family to their current home in San Antonio, Texas, he needed a solution that would allow him to complete his degree online while supporting his profession’s expectation of constant travel. “When I was looking for new schools I’d found direction, and I knew the direction I wanted to go in, so I was researching good online geography programs. UF was consistently within the top 3 recommendations,” said Brandon, when explaining why he chose UF Online to complete his bachelor’s degree.
In addition to flexibility, Brandon stated that he also wanted to graduate from a school with a credible name. As he explained, “I realized all of my existing coursework would transfer to UF, and that I could pick up where I left off and continue as a Gator. There’s a lot of online degree programs that are tailored to military individuals out there, but I wanted something more. I wanted something with a reputation, and that’s something the Gator Nation can provide.”
In Fall 2018, Brandon enrolled in UF Online. Originally an environmental science major, the switch in studies was just as important as his online degree program selection. Geography via UF Online was the best fit for Brandon’s interests and career goals. “I didn’t know what I wanted to study originally. I’m a remote sensing operator. I work with cameras, maps, charts, the study of areas big and small, and then use that remote sensing equipment to determine points of interest and help people on the ground,” said Brandon. While researching majors, professional and personal interests seemed to intersect at geography. He explained, “A friend of mine said ‘Hey, you should probably look into GIS,’ Geographic Information Systems is engaging in remote sensing. I thought, how can I correlate that to an actual degree? Then bam, geography became the thing.”
Specific interests in elements like human geography also led to Brandon selecting anthropology as the perfect minor to accent his degree.
“I’ve been able to be a Gator on three different continents. I’ve worn a Gator shirt in Afghanistan and a Gator jersey in Africa. I’ve had people recognize my Gator gear all around the world, and that’s quite a feeling in itself.”
ONLINE EDUCATION FROM FLORIDA TO TEXAS
With a change in scenery, schools, and subjects, Brandon enjoyed an experience with UF Online that he says accommodated his unique military life, and professors who understood the importance of flexibility. “My favorite thing about the majority of the classes I’ve taken is when the professor is the one who built the course. I’ve enjoyed those so much more because they’ve tailored the material and they’re able to answer very specific questions,” said Brandon, when speaking on some of his favorite aspects of UF Online.
Adding on to the need for flexibility, Brandon and his family are soon leaving Texas for New Mexico. Aside from mobility, the flexibility offered by UF Online gave Brandon a unique perspective on new challenges presented when navigating higher education during a pandemic. When speaking on these challenges he said, “I have a lot of friends and relatives who are in college at various levels, and I watched them have to go from the traditional on-campus experience to online-only education because their schools were forced to shut down. It was a nightmare for them. Transitioning can be difficult, but I think the infrastructure UF Online has in place made the transition a bit easier for students. With advancements in technology, online learning is a completely different experience than what it once was.”
“Online education wasn’t as proliferated back in the 2000’s, it just wasn’t as big of a thing. Thankfully by the time I realized the topic I wanted to study and had an understanding of GIS, the option to study from anywhere was becoming more common.”
Many people pursue a college degree to accompany their experiential professional learning through their career. Brandon wanted a formalized educational component to highlight his military experience. As he describes, “I’m getting that in the form of my UF degree, but I hope to pursue my master’s degree as well. This will allow me to market myself to companies that work with GIS. There are companies all over the world using remote skills in everything from emergency management to agricultural research and city planning. Because I have these skills and the ability to work with the department of defense, that opens a lot of doors and adds more value compared to having just one piece of that puzzle.”
MAKING MOVES AS A GATOR GRAD DAD
Once his undergraduate career came to a close, Brandon explained how the online college experience might have been different for him while simultaneously raising multiple boys. “My oldest , when we’re in Florida in particular, if he sees someone with a Seminole shirt he’d say ‘My daddy’s a Gator’, or you’d hear someone say ‘Roll Tide’ and the boys will say ‘Go Gators’. It’s funny because they recognize that, they understand that I’m a Gator,” said Brandon.
Brandon and his wife of 12 years, Brittany, have four sons ages 12, 8, 5, and 1. As we know, graduating with a 4.0 GPA seems like an intimidating task in general, but Brandon says the support and encouragement of his family helped him achieve this personal goal. As he explained, “My wife has been there the entire way, and she’s supportive of whatever direction I want to go. The boys have seen my studies for the past few years and can relate to me being in school.”
When it comes to spending quality time with his children, Brandon also serves as a scout dad who regularly takes his boys on camping trips. “We do that once a month or every other month. I have to knock out my work first though. I always tell them to get their homework done and they’ll have time for all the fun things. I’m the same way. I relate because I have to get my homework done before I can let loose and do whatever they want to do. They see how these lessons work both ways.”
In summing up the emotions on his graduation, Brandon got to breathe a sigh of relief. “I got to graduate free and clear, and then catch a bit of a break to focus on my family, on the move, and getting established in a new place again.”
UF Online and the University of Florida celebrate students like Brandon, and their personal stories which extend the reach of the Gator Nation all around the world. It’s their tenacity and drive that allows online education to continue to grow, and displays how we can eliminate physical boundaries while raising the standards of online education. Congratulations to Brandon from everyone at UF Online!
EARN A UF DEGREE IN GEOGRAPHY
With a UF degree in Geography, students can learn career-ready skills, such as geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, aerial photo interpretation, spatial analysis, modeling, database handling and computer-based cartography. Taught by faculty within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, UF Online’s Geography program aims to prepare students for careers in environmental science, urban and regional planning, business geography, medical geography and geographic education. To learn more about UF Online’s Geography program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.