A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard where she served four and a half years, CJ Blickenstaff has a different perspective on her undergraduate college career than the average student.
At 32 years old, she has three children, one in pre-K, one in kindergarten and one in first grade. Her active-duty husband is stationed in Baltimore, and she is working toward her bachelor’s degree in communication arts with a concentration in digital media at Hood College. She hopes to finish her degree by 2017 before the Coast Guard transfers her family to another location.
Blickenstaff, who rose to the rank of petty officer third class before leaving active duty in 2010, has a wide range of interests within communications, and she will be looking for a job with a small company in public relations, social media or networking.
“I like to communicate both verbally and visually,” she said. “I dabble in photography. So I’m setting myself up for maybe the perfect job landing in my lap that meets everything I love to do.”
The support she has received from the military and Hood College has provided her a smooth transition into the life of a college student. With her GI Bill, other funds from Hood grants and Hood’s involvement in the yellow ribbon program—a program that supplements the GI Bill—there is no out-of-pocket cost to her.
Blickenstaff credits her experiences in life and in the military for giving her the mindset and habits to succeed even with such a busy life.
“I think I’m a more dedicated student,” she said. “Back in 2001 I graduated from high school, and I went to Stockton College in New Jersey on a scholarship. Within a month and a half, I dropped out. I wasn’t happy with where things were going. I joined the service a couple years later to get direction in life. I feel like now, as a spouse, as a parent and as an adult, I have to sit down, and I have to do it, so I do my best because I respect that it’s being paid for by something I earned, and it’s not just been given to me.”
Blickenstaff likes the Hood campus in part because she has seen a wide variety of students, and she feels welcome. As a person with years of experience in the real world, her younger classmates look to her for perspective and advice.
“I don’t feel like the students treat me differently because I’m older,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of students say it’s cool to have a mom’s perspective in the classroom. I think I’ve lost my direction enough times that I can be a good coach for bringing people back.”
Taking classes on top of being a full-time mom, Blickenstaff has a full plate.
“It’s busy, but it’s doable,” she said. “I feel like the real world is equally busy. Life is full time.”