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According to the National Center for Education Statistics over half of full-time, undergraduate students seeking a four year degree for the first time take at least six years to complete their degree.

Earlier this month, Sgt. Dawit Gebreyesus from the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, completed his Masters in Business Administration from Mount St. Mary’s University with a 3.8 grade point average. Despite challenges along the way, Gebreyesus completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in just three years.

With the use of Army tuition assistance and his GI Bill, Gebreyesus had to pay very little out of pocket expenses for his degree. Army tuition assistance will pay up to $250 per credit hour for up to 16 semester hours in a fiscal year. The GI Bill, according to education counselor Gordon Nero, covers 36 months of full-time education.

Gebreyesus, originally from Oahu, Hawaii, said he joined the Army to give back to his country.

“I wanted to serve. I want to serve my country before I take any of the benefits from my country,” the medical laboratory technician said.

Gebreyesus described the challenges in completing his degree as a balancing act.

“I was never deployed [while attending school], but balancing the load as a full-time student and Soldier was very challenging.

He also said his motivation came from his family’s encouragement and the long-term advantages to having a higher education.

“Education is the future. It’s the only way to survive in the economy and to be secure. I know that when I am done serving in the Army, I will be okay,” Gebreyesus said. “Hard work was the key to doing this. Managing your time well is also important. I took classes in the evenings and on the weekends. I had to sacrifice a lot of my personal time to finish school.”

Nero commented on the challenges of being a successful student and serving in the military.

“When you are in the military, your mission always comes first. Your education, while it’s important, never comes before your mission,” Nero said. “Not every Soldier is able to accomplish what [Gebreyesus] has. Hopefully this will help motivate some Soldiers and help dispel rumors that you can’t be successful in gaining your education while serving in the military.”

Gebreyesus offers the following advice to those desiring to improve themselves by becoming a successful student: do not take education for granted, do not procrastinate, when times are hard think about what the future holds, and do not let adversities and set-backs deter you from your goals.

“I am now sure that I will be a valuable asset to my country and people. I will continue to make a difference,” Gebreyesus said.

Now that Gebreyesus is finished with his education, he hopes to explore becoming a commissioned officer.