(Photo: Augie Dannehl, We Are The Mighty)
Jeremiah Woznick dropped out of community college at 19 years old. "I never felt any personal connection between my professors and me," he said. He joined the Navy, and his first duty station was an aircraft carrier. He took advantage of the ship's distance learning program and passed his first course in accounting. He fully intended to keep going, but his plans were altered by the 9/11 attacks.
"I was working 15-18 hour days on the flight deck as a firefighter," Woznick said. "I was trained to know how to shut down the various types of aircraft as well as being able to be a first responder in the event of a flight deck fire or aircraft crash landing."
By the time Woznick's enlistment was up, he was a seasoned veteran of three combat cruises at the ripe old age of 21. He moved to Hawaii with the intention of starting his own landscape design business while also pursuing his education using his post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
"The credits I had received while in the Navy would easily transfer, and -- along with the discounts for veterans -- the distance learning opportunities had me sold once again on the possibilities," he said. After some research, Woznick decided to pursue an associate's degree at Grantham University.
"I found I was using key lessons in my curriculum to apply to my everyday business model," Woznick said. "My studies were becoming more and more a part of my life, and the results were apparent."
Woznick finished his associate's degree in 19 months, and celebrated by surfing some of the biggest recorded waves in history, on the North Shore of Oahu. A few days later Woznick hurt his hand while working his landscaping business, and while he was healing, decided to pursue his bachelor's degree. Again he chose the distance learning option.
"I always had a hard time focusing in a room full of students and the nuisances of driving to school every day to fight for parking and a good seat was never anything that I looked forward to," he said. "Being able to study at home in a peaceful environment or even on the beach in Waikiki was such a great way for me to be able to focus."
While Woznick was working on his degree he began to teach surf lessons. But before he could officially be a surfing instructor he had to earn his "blue card," which meant he had to pass tests in first aid, CPR, and water safety.
"I couldn't have trained for these tests if I was sitting in a classroom all day," he said.
(Photo: Augie Dannehl)
Somewhat ironically, teaching surf lessons allowed Woznick to choose the direction he wanted to go with his bachelor's degree.
"Teaching surf lessons to 50 students and being able to corral everyone together -- different sizes and ages -- in a safe way in a dangerous environment was very challenging," he said. "The students were like different stakeholders, and I was like the project manager trying to manage them and get the project done correctly."
Always looking for the next opportunity, Woznick had just leveraged his Grantham learning to start a tourism business when he heard about a job a FEMA.
"I found a project specialist in emergency management position with FEMA's public assistance program through USA Jobs," Woznick said. "My degree proved to be the major factor in me getting the job."
His first deployment with FEMA was to Kansas City due to a major flooding event. While onsite he took the time to visit Grantham's campus.
"It was extremely coincidental that my first FEMA deployment sent me to a spot near Grantham University, the institution that helped me get educated and hired," Woznick said.
While back in Hawaii between FEMA deployments, he decided to continue his education by pursuing his master's degree.
"Once I saw the curriculum for project management at Grantham University, I finally realized that that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," he said.
As Woznick started to work toward his MBA -- Project Management degree, his grandfather started showing signs of Alzheimers and dementia. His grandmother needed his help.
"I would study at night while my grampa incoherently moved around in his wheelchair nearby," he remembered. "This was another example of how the school was flexible with my learning schedule. I couldn't have made it if I'd had to be in class at a set time in a physical location the next day."
(Photo: August Dannehl, We Are The Mighty)
Woznick's second deployment put much of what he'd learned while pursuing his MBA to work. He was sent to Wimberley, Texas, a city ravaged by floodwaters. "The destruction and devastation were enormous," he said.
"I worked directly with the city's fire department and was even honored by the fire chief for my service," Woznick said. "I could clearly see that the graduate courses I was taking were paying off. The skills I had acquired were being put to the test as I helped the community get grant funds to rebuild the city."
Then, as if by grand design, the day Woznick found out he'd earned his MBA from Grantham was the same day he got his first pay raise with FEMA.
"I was once training people how to surf, and now I am training people how I can serve them with the FEMA Public Assistance program," he said. "I could not be the person that I am today without distance education."