College is not always a four-year experience, in the confines of a classroom, for the young.
For people such as Master Sgt. Michael Sturgess, 46, college came later in life and military service came first. His classroom was sometimes a computer screen, and he had to balance his education with a family and a job.
On Friday, more than 4,600 adult learners graduated from Excelsior College at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. Among them was Sturgess.
Excelsior College was founded in 1971 as the Regents College and was renamed Excelsior College in 2001. It focuses on adult education and has been a pioneer in online learning.
“I would encourage everybody to get an education — especially veterans or even active-duty military personnel,” Sturgess said. “And to look at Excelsior College because they have so many benefits and great programs that veterans, and even active-duty military personnel, can get into.”
More than 34 percent of Excelsior College’s 2013 graduates are members of the U.S. military and 40 percent of its student body and alumni ranks are military personnel and veterans, according to Mike Lesczinski, a spokesman for the college.
Preceding the graduation Friday, Excelsior hosted a dedication for its newly launched Lt. Col. Bryant A. Murray Veterans Center, named after the late Lt. Col. Bryant A. Murray, a 30-year veteran. Murray’s daughter is an alumna of Excelsior and a trustee. The center is a resource for military veterans, families and active-duty military personnel.
“The Veterans Center is a comprehensive, robust place for service members,” said Sgt. Jeremy Glasstetter, the director of the Veterans Center. “Veterans, spouses, dependants can find access to information that will seamlessly matriculate them into higher education, but also assimilate them back into society.”
Sturgess delivered a speech at the dedication about his experience as a veteran and as an adult learner of Excelsior College.
“I did go out and scope out other colleges, but I did not have that warm and fuzzy [feeling] as a veteran that this was the place I wanted to be going,” he said. “When I met the staff at Excelsior, I automatically knew ‘wow, this is the one.’ This is the chance I am going to have.”
Sturgess retired after 22 years in the Marine Corps. He was born and raised in Poughkeepsie and went to boot camp straight out of high school. He lives in Rotterdam and is married with two grown sons. He works for the Watervliet Arsenal.
He earned associate degrees over the years, but wanted a bachelor’s. He left the stage Friday with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Sturgess said the support he received from Excelsior College as a veteran was unlike anything he had received in his life. And he believes the Lt. Col. Bryant A. Murray Veterans Center will continue to make Excelsior a welcoming and helpful home for veterans.
“We have a place where we can meet, where we can go,” he said. “We can gather as veterans in a new facility that is dedicated for us.”
According to Glasstetter, the Veterans Center is not just for Excelsior students, but for all veterans.
It offers resources such as a college orientation program in the basics of higher education such as financial aid, explanation of veterans benefits, academic support, networking, transition skills, mental health and wellness services, veteran-to-veteran counseling and free legal and financial services.
“Excelsior has helped more than 60,000 service members achieve their academic objectives,” Glasstetter said. “At Excelsior we believe by empowering those military-affiliated community members with up-to-date information and benefits — resources unique and specific to that military service — it allows this unique population to navigate the college experience more successfully.”
For the past three years, Excelsior has been recognized by the Military Times EDGE magazine as a “Best for Vets” college and one of the top five “Best for Vets” business colleges, according to Lesczinski.
Sturgess can attest.
“Taking care of a veteran, active duty personnel, fallen veterans’ families — that is what this institution was all about to me,” he said. “And that is why I chose Excelsior College.”