Logistical Success: G4 Staffers Earn Top Degrees at Same Time
Sapele Utu doesn't know how it all came together so perfectly, but he's sure glad it did. About a year ago, Utu, who works in the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, started taking steps towards obtaining his master's degree. It was a task he'd put aside for many years; as a proud second-generation Samoan, Utu's parents had always preached the importance of a good education, and he felt he was finally ready to start tackling his goal. When he told coworker Tina Brunson about his plan, she remarked that, oddly enough, she herself was in the middle of studying for her master's degree. When another G4 coworker, Don Blakey, overheard their conversation, he couldn't help but point out that he too was working on obtaining a master's degree.
Talk about a coincidence.
"We certainly didn't plan this together," says Utu, the deputy at G4 who's been at MRDC since 2014. "But once we found out we were all working towards the same thing, a master's degree, we just continued to motivate and cheer each other on."
Whatever they were doing, it certainly paid dividends. As of early this year, all three have earned the grades and credits required to finally land their respective master's degrees – an accomplishment that, aside from being a team award of sorts, means something extra special for each person. For Utu especially, the achievement serves as a kind-of bridge between familial generations, acting as both a promise kept to his parents and, also, a pathway to future opportunities for his children.
"On a personal level this is not only a win for me, but also for my family who has sacrificed for my opportunities," says Utu, who received his Master of Arts in Management from American Military University. "Earning a master's degree has helped me set an example of dedication and hard work for my children. My hope is for them to feel inspired by my example, and work tirelessly towards their own goals both now and in the future."
It a similar sentiment for Tina Brunson, an administrative officer with G4. She served in the Army prior to her civil service career – her last assignment, in fact, ended at Fort Detrick in 2005 – and given that she had a young family at the time, she couldn't give her full attention to her educational goals. Now that her children are grown however, Brunson, much like Utu, finally reached the point where she felt could deliver on the promise she made to herself all those years ago. Along the way, she realized she could also use the effort to teach her kids a life lesson about dedication and perseverance.
"I wanted to show my children that you can accomplish anything if you try hard enough," says Brunson, who received her Master of Arts in Human Resource Management (along with a Graduate Certificate in Leadership and Management) from the University of Maryland. "If you can imagine it, then you can do it – it can be done."
As for Blakey, a logistics management specialist at G4, he admits that while his degree in Biblical Studies from Lancaster Bible College (via Capital Seminary and Graduate School) is "a departure from the usual beaten path of logistics," it remains a significant life accomplishment – one which has markedly improved both his personal and professional life. While he already holds an MBA (the first of his now two master's degrees) the church remains Blakey's first love; he credits his faith with setting him on the right path in life, a process that started as a teenager when he began singing in the church choir with his parents. After nine years of on-again, off-again coursework, Blakey will receive his master's degree in May.
"I am a better writer and communicator because of this lifelong endeavor of pursuing educational excellence when given the opportunity," says Blakey, who is also an ordained minister. "It has made me doubly successful within the religious realm as well."
In the end, all that effort adds up to an office packed with hard workers and high-achievers – something every boss covets. In this case, that boss is Mark Davis, the Deputy Chief of Staff for G4. From his perspective, there is no better feeling than watching members of your own team accomplish their goals.
"I am extremely proud of each of them," says Davis of Utu, Brunson and Blakey. "Each of these employees shows a strong work ethic at the office, but to see them carry that effort beyond the workplace and into the classroom in order to fully realize their potential – it's a great joy to watch."