After a long military career, James Abercromby decided to head back to school. For him, it was Rutgers or bust.
Rutgers, Above All
Seizing an Opportunity
James served in the military longer than some of his classmates have been alive. After 20 years in the United States Air Force—including participation in Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and Allied Force, as well as assignments in Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, and Italy—he retired in 2005.
A work opportunity brought him to New Jersey, where he took a job as a computer-network-security engineer. Then he heard about the generous new education assistance for veterans.
“When I learned about the 9/11 GI Bill, I thought, ‘This is crazy. This is too good to be true,’ ” James remembers. The bill gave him the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and James had one place in mind:
“I said to myself, ‘If I don’t go to Rutgers, I don’t want to go to school.’ I was already impressed with its history and its progressive view on education, and I was familiar with New Brunswick. Plus, it is very well known.”
James started at Rutgers–New Brunswick in January 2010, coming to campus as a transfer student through the GI Bill.
“It took me 20 years to get my associate’s degree in information technology while in the Air Force. I was busy. And my job didn’t end after work. I ended up attending five different institutions, including Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical University], as I moved around,” James recalls.
James is still very busy. But a supportive workplace, flexible course offerings such as Saturday classes, and a reasonable commute from Middletown, New Jersey, make a bachelor’s degree an obtainable goal.
An orientation session for nontraditional students, including veterans, put him in touch with services for adult learners, who are encouraged to affiliate with the University College Community.
As for learning alongside students half his age, no adjustment was needed: “I’m fine with the age difference. I’ve had experience managing people who were in their late teens to late 30s,” James says.
Carving Out a Place
“When I got here, I was amazed and excited by all the activities and groups. Then I decided, for my first semester, to focus on class, take it by the day, and work on getting my groove on. Once I get a semester under my belt, I’ll feel more comfortable branching out. It’s all about time management.
“I plan to study sociology. I’m interested in immigration issues and want to help advocate for immigrants as well as make social commentary through the creation of documentaries. I want to do positive things in the world and make some kind of tangible impact on people’s lives,” says James, who is right where he wants to be. “I mean, sure, Princeton is beautiful, but Rutgers is Rutgers. I’m very proud to be going here.”