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Taking Risks and Reaping Rewards

An airman in the U.S. Air Force finds unexpected returns pursuing an online degree in knowledge management.

Portrait of Shaei Rodriguez sitting on picnic table.
Shaei Rodriguez is pursuing a degree in knowledge management to build on the expertise he’s gained through his military job at Camp Springs, Maryland.

Some people graduate from high school knowing exactly what they want to study in college. Others go straight into the workforce. For Shaei Rodriguez ’22, the path wasn’t so clear. He joined the United States Air Force after high school as a way to gain some wisdom and experience, and to help with the financial aspects of higher education.

“I thought that the military was a great compromise to get the maturity and the financial assistance,” says the Denver native, who is the first in his family to join the military. Now in his fourth year of active duty, Rodriguez is a senior airman (soon to be staff sergeant) at Camp Springs, Maryland, where he works as a knowledge manager administering the base’s SharePoint system. To expand his expertise, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in knowledge management online at Syracuse University.

Above and Beyond

Rodriguez, who earned an associate degree from the University of Maryland, is confident the University College program will enhance the experience he’s gaining from his military job. “I thought getting a degree in knowledge management would separate me from the rest of my peers because I’m receiving formal education that goes beyond the standard military information. Also, I’m trying to be a jack of all trades, so knowing something like knowledge management is really exciting,” says Rodriguez.

Serving alongside his fellow airmen in the 744th Communications Squadron while juggling schoolwork makes for a long day. Rodriguez works on the base from 7 a.m. until lunchtime, which he reserves for reading and homework assignments, and then returns to work until 4 p.m. After that, he does a couple more hours of coursework before logging on for classes. He typically takes three classes per semester. He says that although his schedule is packed, he doesn’t mind because the structure makes managing his job a little easier.

To help ease the financial burden of college, Rodriguez applied for the Lucy and Joseph Napoli Veterans Scholarship and was selected as a recipient. “I’m extremely humbled to be selected for this scholarship fund,” says Rodriguez, who learned of the opportunity through the University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs . “Attending college part-time can be taxing when you struggle to balance work, finances and course assignments. But receiving this scholarship helped shape my future positively by reducing financial strain, allowing me to focus more on my studies.” 

Rodriquez is grateful for the Napoli family’s generosity and for the opportunities the scholarship provides. “It’s admirable when you achieve success—but despite your triumph, you’re aware of the people behind you still struggling,” he says. “It’s important to give back to scholarships because when you help someone, you also help establish a cycle of paying it forward that has potential to benefit future generations.” 

A Rewarding Experience

Even though he’s not physically located on the Syracuse University campus, Rodriguez says he still feels part of the Orange community. In fact, embracing the Orange spirit is part of what drove him to apply for the scholarship. “To me, being Orange means taking risks,” he explains. “But by accepting the risk, you can get plenty of rewards. It’s partly why I applied for this scholarship. I thought, ‘OK, if I don’t get it, nothing happens. But either way, it’s a great opportunity to practice essay writing outside of the academic environment.’”

Attending college part-time can be taxing when you struggle to balance work, finances and course assignments. But receiving this scholarship helped shape my future positively by reducing financial strain, allowing me to focus more on my studies.

—Shaei Rodriguez

Last January, the University sponsored Rodriguez’s attendance at the 2020 Student Veterans of America National Conference in Los Angeles, the largest annual convening of post-9/11 veterans. There, he learned skills ranging from money management to writing a college paper. Approximately 20 other Syracuse University student veterans were also selected to attend the event, and Rodriguez felt that his inclusion with fellow students—some based on campus and others completing their education remotely—proved just how much the University values its online students.

Rodriguez does eventually plan to leave the military and one day work in the private sector. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University, he plans to earn an MBA. His goal is to attend the University of Notre Dame, where he’s wanted to study ever since hearing about it from a high school teacher. “I think the military and Syracuse University have both been a great help in eventually getting me there one day.”

Lisa Maresca

This story was published on .

Also of Interest

  • Institute for Veterans and Military Families

    The IVMF at Syracuse University is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the post-service lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families to serve those who have served.

  • Syracuse University Online

    Academic excellence, flexible options, a vibrant community and a global alumni network help you succeed from your first class to your next job—and well beyond. Whatever your next move, we have the online programs and supportive community to help you succeed.