Print Email Facebook Twitter Release Share Font Size: A A A A
Earning criminal justice degree
WSU Online freshman serves nation, neighbors
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012
By Richard H. Miller, Center for Distance and Professional Education
Gilberto Gonzalez, 19, at the Benton City fire station. (Photo by Brian Maki, Center for Distance and Professional Education)
PULLMAN, Wash. - Except for the buzz cut, Gilberto Gonzalez seems like a typical wholesome 19-year-old: Enthusiastic, helpful, a bit shy. But when he’s asked to stand in front of the fire truck for a photo, it all changes. He raises his chin, squares his shoulders. His eyes narrow and grow fierce with pride.
Gilberto is a trainee at the Benton City, Wash., fire station. He lives across the street in a house he shares with five other Benton County Fire District 2 volunteer residents. He’s also a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and trains at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma.
"I was helping my nation with the Marine Corps Reserves but I wanted to help my community too,” Gilberto said. "What better than working here as a firefighter?”
When he’s not protecting his country and community, Gilberto is preparing to fight crime. He’s earning an online criminal justice degree from Washington State University so he can become a fire marshal. He enrolled at WSU Online shortly after graduating from Kiona-Benton City High School.
A shift toward four-year online degrees
"Historically, students came to WSU Online with existing college credits and saw the online program as a way to complete their degrees,” said David Cillay, executive director of the Center for Distance and Professional Education, which includes WSU Online. "We’re beginning to experience a shift in our student population. A lot of students like Gilberto wanted to come here for the full four years.”
Cillay said those freshmen students will find that WSU Online mirrors the campus experience in many ways, such as courses taught by WSU professors, the prestige of a WSU diploma, excellent advisors and chances to socialize at events organized by the nation’s first online student government.
Easier to balance work, academics
Bailey Young, 21, enrolled in WSU Online as a freshman last May. She works at a private K-12 school in Idaho and had no way to fit campus visits into her work schedule.
"I’ve learned so much, even more than I expected,” Bailey said of her WSU Online education.
She praised the academics - "great classes, great professors” - and student services staff: "They’re so helpful. They’re very good about getting back to you right away.”
Larissa Dvorak graduated from Mt. Spokane High School in 2011 and enrolled in WSU Online this semester. She does her coursework in the morning, freeing her to work later in the day, and is living at home to save money.
"I wanted to take more responsibility for my tuition,” she said. "And I can help my mom do chores, start dinner and take care of my two sisters.”
Parents filled with pride
Gilberto also does his coursework first thing in the morning. He brings his books to the fire station in case he has any free time, and he does his homework in bed before falling asleep.
Gilberto is the first college student in his family. His mother dropped out of middle school and his father - "he’s been working farm life all his life” - never went to school at all.
When he was at boot camp, Gilberto said, he’d get a letter from his parents every few weeks. There was one he'll never forget.
"My father explained how proud he was of me,” Gilberto said. "He was just so proud… he just wrote it all through the letter.”