Over the years Prince William Sound College (PWSC) has had many Coast Guard members enroll into various degree and certificate programs. A recent graduate is Chief Paul Pleiss.
Pleiss graduated this spring with an Associate of Arts (A.A.) from PWSC. He is now taking classes through Oregon State University’s eCampus to complete a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and eventually would like to earn a master’s. He states that the A.A. has acted as a stepping-stone for him towards this goal and that “In three years I hope to be putting the finishing touches on my bachelor’s degree from OSU and preparing for graduate school. I don't know where I will be, as life in the military is full of moves, but I do hope that I can make my continued education a priority in my life.”
Taking classes at PWSC allowed Pleiss to further his education: “My education at PWSC was a great opportunity for me to get back into education. I had completed nearly 2 years of college more than a decade ago and hadn't been focused on my personal education, but rather on furthering my career in the Coast Guard. Living in a small town in Alaska with a great little school like PWSC and access to the University of Alaska distance education classes made it really easy for me to find the courses I needed that also fit my work schedule. Heidi Franke, the academic advisor, was such a huge help to me as I changed my major and looked for the right classes to help me complete my degree. Earning my associate degree at PWSC was a huge personal accomplishment for me and gave me the courage to continue my education. Even if I never finish my bachelor’s degree, having my military service combined with an associate degree will help me get my foot in the door for whatever comes next for me, personally or professionally.”
Despite working full-time, Pleiss managed to fit classes into his routine: “Working a full-time job and going to school is no easy task for anyone, and in that regard I am no different. It takes a lot of scheduling and self-discipline to do both together, and I'd like to tip my hat to the full-time students who are raising a family and working full time. I honestly don't know how they do it! For me, blocking out time on my days off to get school work done was essential, and I enlisted the help of my wife to keep me on track and doing the work that needed to be done, even when it was sunny and I wanted to be out rock climbing, she made sure I was at my desk, doing my homework. Being in the Coast Guard, at some level, is just like any other job, and for me to be able to juggle my work requirements and schoolwork was difficult. My supervisor allowed me to adjust my work schedule so I could make it to class, and that's a huge credit to the organization. The Coast Guard prides itself on having an educated workforce, and I was humbled at their willingness to find ways to help me be successful, both at work and in the classroom. Financially, the Coast Guard also helps out with classes through their Tuition Assistance program, providing up to $2,250 per year to help offset the cost of tuition. The low tuition rates at PWSC allowed me to maximize the value of that assistance and squeeze in a few more classes before having to pay out of pocket. Finding money for education is something that both my wife and I talked about, and made a priority in our budget. Going to school part time while working full time gives me the ability to afford to pay for classes as I go, without having to take out student loans, and while it's going to take me longer to finish my degrees, I've still got another 8 years or more before I take off the cloth of the nation and retire from the Coast Guard. That's when my next career will begin, and that's when the degree I have earned at PWSC and beyond will begin to pay huge dividends.”
Like Pleiss, many other Coast Guard members have been drawn to the College because it offers them a way to further their education while serving. PWSC offers online and evening courses to conveniently fit into their schedules. In addition to financial aid available through the College, the Coast Guard offers a tuition assistance program. The College even offers apartment-style student housing for anyone taking 6 or more credits. If you are interested in going to college at PWSC, set up an appointment with Academic Advisor Heidi Franke by calling 834-1600 or stopping by the campus at 303 Lowe Street in Valdez.