Alumni Spotlight

Ben Holmes – National University

Ben Holmes is a First Sergeant with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force – and a stellar example of how the right college can help a person realize their potential and turn a dream into reality.  He has two Purple Hearts, has been deployed six times (including three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan), was a Drill Instructor at MCRD San Diego, and – thanks to National University – has a BA History, a M.Ed. Education, and a soon-to-be-completed MA History. He will also begin an Ed.D. program with City University of Seattle in the Fall.

In 2006, Holmes had an abundance of college credit, but no degree. He discovered a NU stats class that would meet the requirement for his AA – but it ultimately started him on a road which, up to that point, had only been a nebulous idea. A NU counselor sat down with him and mapped out what he needed to do to achieve a degree: the steps, the sequence, and the timing. Putting everything on paper made the idea more attainable.

The unique nature of the military makes long-term planning difficult, but NU’s one-month classes made scheduling easy. With eight classes to go, Holmes transferred to 29 Palms, where a NU counselor introduced him to online learning, which he loved.

A deployment to Afghanistan did not end as predicted – in April 2011, he was severely injured in an explosion which destroyed his right leg and broke his pelvis. Back in the States in Balboa Hospital, he knew he would have time on his hands and the NU term was about to start. His dad pushed his wheelchair down to the NU office so Homes could enroll. There, he met admissions officer Helen Milan, who helped him apply some high school credits to his degree – getting him even closer to his goal.

Over the course of 18 months, 16 surgeries, and countless medical appointments, NU staff and administration worked with Holmes to ensure he could complete classes and get his degree – then begin working towards a Masters. Through careful planning, he figured he could complete his degree while still active military, and in the midst of future deployments.

In May 2012, he learned his leg couldn’t be saved would need to be amputated – just days before classes began and two months before he was to begin student teaching. His first call was to Dr. Nedra Crow, who he met at an orientation, to explain the situation.  In his words, “she helped guide me through some of the darkest times and toughest decisions of my life and assured me that, one way or another, I would get my student teaching done. “

June 1, Homes right leg was amputated below the knee; three days later he was wheeled into a class on the Carlsbad campus. Still in a wheelchair when he began student teaching, Holmes learned to walk during his four months in the classroom – something that he calls “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

Since then, he has returned to duty in an administrative capacity; this summer he will retire from the Marine Corps after 20 years; he is a credentialed teacher with two Masters degrees; and his future is filled with seemingly limitless opportunities.

Holmes credits the amputation as probably one of the best things to happen to him. While it provided new challenges, it also opened up a world of potential. Through all of this, National University was his constant. Not only did he have classes to focus on, but faculty and staff were integral to his support team. Everyone he worked with went above and beyond to ensure that he stayed on track, helping him meet deadlines, receive credit, and stay in key programs.

 If he had healed from his injuries “properly,” he would have been back in active military duty sooner. Instead, he has been able to complete his degrees and – thanks to a scholarship from NU – will pursue a Doctorate in the fall. He will also be subbing classes a few days a week and getting involved in organizational leadership to better understand what that means in what he describes as “the real world.”

“I love National University,” said Holmes. “The format and flexibility allowed me to take classes between major field ops and continue learning regardless of where I was stationed. The instructors were savvy, knowledgeable, and understanding of my military commitments. National University is my school and I am just as well-educated and better prepared for life than any graduate from any university.”

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