By Brandi Schwartz, marketing coordinator in Outreach and Engagement
After 15 years of college course work behind him, West Tenbarge, a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard, has earned a Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) degree from USI. An Evansville native, Tenbarge completed the degree in December 2014 with the goal to become an officer in the Indiana Army National Guard and to open doors for future employment opportunities.
Tenbarge joined the Air Force after high school where he served active duty for eight years. He then moved to a civil service position and joined the Air Force full-time for the reserves for 10 years. He’s currently enrolled in Officer Candidate School with the Indiana Army National Guard and will be promoted to second lieutenant when he completes his training this spring.
Due to military deployments and active duty, Tenbarge attended college off and on for several years. He completed various courses at several institutions but never completed a degree. In 2004, Tenbarge decided to enroll in USI’s BGS program. He started out as a part-time student while he worked full-time and traveled with the Air Force. In 2010, Tenbarge quit his job and became a full-time BGS student.
“I resigned my position, switched from the Air Force to the Army, went through basic training and went back to college full-time,” said Tenbarge. “I had plenty of work experience. I worked in civil service as a GS9. It was a good job but I didn’t have a degree which held me back from being promoted and from becoming an officer.”
With more than 130 college credit hours in computer science, aviation, drafting and more, Tenbarge was able to transfer his credits to USI and create a customized degree through the BGS program.
“The BGS program was the only program available where I didn’t have to go back and start all over again. It was the only way for me to combine the credits I had into some form of degree. This would not have been possible with any other degree program.”
During his time as a nontraditional student, Tenbarge felt the biggest challenges he faced were having patience and never giving up.
“I completed my degree the hardest way by dragging it out for so long. It took a lot of patience and ability. I always tried to push myself to do my best. I’d sit in the front of the classroom to put pressure on myself to be an interactive student and to be prepared. I knew I needed to finish my degree.”
Tenbarge would advise anyone returning to college to not give up.
“I would suggest to any college student to stick with it and finish their degree as quickly as possible. The BGS program helps you do that rather than starting over with a whole new program. I think that’s the best advice I could give.”
As for his future, Tenbarge hopes to retire from the military in a few years and land a position with the federal government.
“It’s necessary to have a degree for many of the positions that the federal government and military has. You just have to have it; it’s a stepping-stone for your career. Without it you can make good money, you can have a good job, but you’ll always reach a certain level where you’ll just hit a roadblock. When it comes to a position with the government, a degree is required.”