When Master Sgt. Jeffrey Mills ’23 (Liberal Studies) embarked on completing his associate’s degree through the New York Air National Guard Education Program at SUNY New Paltz, he expected it to be a daunting task.
Like other Airmen, Mills needed these college credits to fulfill requirements for his Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) associate degree.
The New Hampton, New York, resident had a full-time role as the fire prevention coordinator for the nearby City of Middletown Fire Department, a part-time assignment as an Airman stationed at the 105th Airlift Wing Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and the all-important role of raising three children.
“Timewise, the New York Air National Guard Education Program worked out really well,” he said. “As a firefighter by trade, I could arrange my schedule as I needed to get my classes done. I could get the kids on the bus, put an hour into my classes in the mornings, and then make it happen.”
It was the convenience of the online courses that attracted Mills the most to this new, 15-credit program, offered in collaboration between SUNY New Paltz and the 105th Airlift Wing Stewart AIr National Guard Base.
Mills was able to complete all five courses in one semester, taking them online in seven-week cohorts. Even in the online format, he says he got a lot out of the experience of engaging with college students from different walks of life.
“Going into New Paltz really helped me to see what diversity is all about,” he said. “It’s about coming from different generations. It’s about how a 30-something father of three can have deep conversations with 18-year-old kids straight out of high school. The best takeaway I got was how much we offer to one another if we just sit back and listen to each other.”
Jason Gililland, the director of the Office of Veterans & Military Services, commended Mills for his success in the program.
“He is leading by example and taking charge by accomplishing this requirement,” he said.
Master Sgt. James Hokkanen, the retention office manager at the 105th Airlift Wing Stewart Air National Guard Base, praised Mills for his dedication to succeed further within his career.
“He certainly raised the bar by rapidly completing all his courses in one semester along with balancing his family & military life,” Hokkanen said. “Master Sgt. Mills displayed anything is possible when you have set goals!”
Taking this step toward his educational goals, as a first-generation student, has been a point of pride for Mills in providing a positive example for his family and other service members. He’s currently planning to continue that process by returning to New Paltz for bachelor’s degree in business administration in fall 2022.
“Because of my New Paltz education, I will become the first in my family to graduate college,” he said. “I see the personal value in being able to achieve a college degree.”