Tuesday, May 28, 2024

LSUS graduate finished degree while deployed near Russian border

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT – Keona Tidwell wasn’t going to put her life on hold.

The infantry officer in the U.S. Army knew deployment was likely when she was commissioned two years ago, but Tidwell also dreamed of working in the medical field after her military career.

So she decided to start the Master of Health Administration program at LSUS this past summer.

Tidwell earned her degree in 10 months despite spending more than half of that time deployed in Estonia, an Eastern European country that borders Russia.

“I didn’t know exactly when I would deploy when I started the program, but I decided to play it by ear,” Tidwell said. “I was nervous and scared about continuing my classes when I got my orders to deploy to Estonia, but you never know until you try.

“My military service had to come first, but I overcommunicated with all of my professors to let them know about situations when they came up. My professors worked with me without hesitation, and none of them told me that I should drop classes (while deployed).”

Privacy was at a premium, but Tidwell took exams and wrote papers in the still of night.

She said LSUS’s asynchronous format, one that doesn’t require students to be in front of their computers for live lectures, allowed her to complete her degree in the shortest amount of time possible.

“The mission comes before anything, and that meant a lot of times taking tests at 2 or 3 in the morning,” Tidwell said. “I loved the format of the program with due dates set for assignments and being able to see what’s coming a couple of weeks in advance.

“I was able to schedule when I was able to complete things. Being deployed, you’re not able to see people in your support system, so you’re in your own headspace and relying on your own mindset. Accomplishing this degree is a great sense of pride for me.”

The mission in Estonia? Intense training of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies just 50 miles from the Russian border as the war in Ukraine rages on several countries to Estonia’s south.

“It’s a lot of training, a ton of it,” Tidwell said. “We do a lot of situational training exercises.”

The Camden, Ark., native has always wanted to serve in the Army after various family members enlisted in that branch.

But Tidwell wanted higher education to be part of her story and used the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program to graduate from Oklahoma State with a bachelors in applied exercise science and biology.

The 2020 Miss Black Oklahoma State University was one of the first two females in the university’s battalion history to be selected as infantry officers upon their graduation.

“I knew I didn’t want to enlist, so I wanted to go to school and commission into the military,” Tidwell said. “The Army was always my number one choice because it’s a perfect fit of physical fitness and military agility.

“I knew the Army would challenge me, and I felt it was a good balance.”

Tidwell, who is still deployed and hopes to return to the U.S. in July or August, wasn’t able to walk across the graduation stage, but she still put her LSUS cap and gown to good use.

She used leave to visit Paris with her fiancée, who brought her graduation regalia for photos in front of the Eifel Tower.

“We couldn’t take many passes as we were always on alert being so close to the Russian border, but I did get to visit Prague and Paris,” Tidwell said. “I really am proud to be able to complete this degree being in this environment, and I can’t thank professors like (Dr. John Fortenberry and Dr. Reshad Osmani) enough for being flexible and understanding my situation.”

The First Lieutenant is on track to make the rank of Captain by 2026, where she plans to shift to the administrative and human resources side of the Army.

More schooling isn’t out of the question, and Tidwell believes the medical field holds her ultimate career path.

“Once I get experience as a human resources administrative officer, that should help me more when I do transition into the medical field,” Tidwell said. “I’m really into physical fitness and taking care of my body and my health.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or anything, but I really think I can serve others best doing something in the medical field.”

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