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U.S. Army veteran Shannon Read adds second bachelor’s degree in online program

Now that Shannon Read is a graduate of Boise State University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Public Health, she is eager to embark on a post-military career in the field.

“I was in the military for 14 years as an environmental science officer,” she said. “I was cross-trained in lab sciences, preventative medicine, industrial hygiene and environmental sciences. In the civilian sector, those all fall under public health.

“I was even part of the Army Public Health Command for six years. I got medically retired, but when I tried to go into the civilian sector, they [potential employers] wanted the piece of paper that says, ‘public health.’”

So, Read returned to college with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Idaho already under her belt. She graduated in April 2023.

“There weren’t a lot of online programs in public health,” she said. “I was born and bred in Buhl, Idaho. I did a semester at Boise State a long time ago when I was transferring from a junior college to Idaho, so they already had a lot of my prior transcripts, which was great.”

However, tragedy struck during Read’s time in the online program. Her ex-husband died of a heart attack two months before graduation. The couple has three children — Zabrina (30), Kris (20) and Ashlyn (18).

“Earlier this year, Veterans Affairs in Seattle offered me a job in industrial hygiene, which falls under public health,” she said. “Unfortunately, I decided to turn it down. My youngest was a senior in high school, and all of my kids struggled.

“As I went through the vetting process for this federal job, my 20-year-old came to me and said, ‘I am just now starting to come out of this.’ I didn’t think it was the right time to leave. I am currently unemployed by choice because I have to take care of my kids first.”

Dropping Knowledge

Read joined the military after she graduated with her first bachelor’s degree. Her stepdad, retired Army Lt. Col. Kenneth Hawkes, encouraged her to enlist, which she did in 2000.

“He saw my potential and groomed me in that direction,” she said. “I followed in his footsteps. I loved what I did. I knew that I would not make for good enlisted personnel. I waited to get my degree and got a direct commission as an officer. I was also a single parent.”

Although she planned to stay in the Army for the remainder of her career, health issues forced Read to retire in 2014 and become a civilian. She has been a stay-at-home mom for the last nine years.

“I did some emergency management for Hurricane Sandy because I was stationed with a regional command unit in Maryland at the time,” she said. “New York and New Jersey fell under our command, so we were the inspectors and part of the second wave when everyone went in and went through.”

Because Read had so much higher education experience prior to enrolling at Boise State, she mostly took emergency management and public health classes.

“I was very familiar with the information,” she said. “So many of my classmates were just getting into the field. Because I was dealing with other things, I didn’t take the lead on any groups.

“But I had no problem putting in my two cents’ worth and giving advice about how things in emergency management need to run. I pointed out different issues and perspectives.”

Read especially enjoyed lending her expertise in professor Thomas Turco’s emergency management courses.

“Some of the classes were real-life scenarios,” she said. “For example, ‘a tsunami just hit Alaska.’ Then we went through the different stages, so you’d have to write something new each week. First, it was bringing everybody in. Most people didn’t understand that you can activate the National Guard and bring them in.

“I knew what the National Guard was capable of because I’d been there, done that. I knew about bringing in the regional command for the Army; if there were any units in that area, they could also be activated. I knew about a lot of different aspects of emergency response.”

Marching Orders

Read also did online coursework while earning a master’s degree, so she made a smooth transition back to the learning environment.

“The Boise State professors were good about working with the students,” she said. “I didn’t have any issues at all. In most of my group projects, we gave each other our phone numbers.

“It was pretty common for us to have it up on the screen as we discussed it. We would get a lot knocked out in five or ten minutes instead of trying to coordinate with everyone’s schedules, which can be tough to do via email sometimes.”

The flexibility of the online format also helped Read balance her schedule to have plenty of time for schoolwork and her family.

“It was just mom doing her thing,” she said. “I did a lot of my work while my kids were at school. I did that in grad school, too.”

Now that Read has a Bachelor of Arts in Public Health, she plans to enter the workforce as soon as possible. 

“Public health is so diverse,” she said. “I am not ready to fully retire, so I am looking for a job I could do for 5-10 years. The coronavirus was right down my alley. I am resubmitting applications. The first job that I am offered, I will probably take — now that I have the piece of paper.” 

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