For Sean Whitaker, it has been a tale of two college experiences. Seven years ago, he earned his degree in history from the University of Pittsburgh. This December, he will earn his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from the College of Business Administration. Sandwiched in between were five years in the United States Air Force as a military operations analyst.
Whitaker’s unconventional career path was spurred by the Great Recession. In 2011, getting a teaching job with his history degree looked unlikely for Whitaker. Therefore, he enlisted in the Air Force to pay off student loans and switch his career path.
“The stats at that time were that four out of every 40 prospective teachers like me were getting full-time job placement in the local area. I always thought the military reserves would be a good match with a teaching career, so I decided to pursue the full-time military path,” Whitaker says.
While in the Air Force, Whitaker was stationed in Texas, Germany, and Northern California. He earned the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-5) and was counted on to provide strategic analysis for senior leadership. He has since been promoted to Technical Sergeant (E-6) while serving in the reserves during his time in school.
“As an analyst, I provided analysis of geopolitical and military events for military leaders, which they used to make strategic decisions on the battlefield. Additionally, I provided threat analysis presentations and reports for our ground troops and pilots in the sky,” Whitaker says.
When his active-duty contract was completed, Whitaker decided to return to Pitt for a degree in accounting from Pitt Business while continuing his military career on a part-time basis in the Air Force Reserve. The G.I. Bill fully financed his education and he has leftover funds from another military source (tuition assistance) should he later decide to pursue a graduate degree.
At 30 years old, Whitaker says he expected college to be easier the second time around. He was wrong.
“I thought the past two-and-a-half years in Pitt Business would be easier,” he says. “I’m older. The military provided me the discipline to be focused, and I’m very organized to begin with, but it’s actually been more challenging because of my accounting major.”
“I also underestimated the impact of adult life on my education. I’m married and balancing full-time school with my occasional weekend reserve duty commitments… just life, in general, can make it a challenge,” Whitaker says.
“Fortunately, Pitt Business was a welcoming environment to military personnel,” he says.
On the weekends when he was called into duty through the reserves, his Pitt Business professors were flexible with his assignment and test deadlines.
Whitaker also found support through the University of Pittsburgh Office of Veteran Services (OVS), located on the first floor of Posvar Hall.
“I wish I would have discovered them sooner,” he says. “The community of peers they provided was great. I was able to meet like-minded and like-stage-of-life individuals.”
Now Whitaker is a work-study student in OVS. He helps other military students make the transition to college life.
Even though Whitaker, as an adult student, is at a different stage of life than his Pitt Business classmates, he can still relate to them. He likes to remind them that he met his future wife, Ashley, then a student at Chatham University, one night during college years ago.
“I always say, ‘Enjoy your weekend, you might end up meeting your wife,’” he says.
It appears that Whitaker’s investment in his education at Pitt Business has been worth it. He has accepted an offer to become an auditor at Maher Duessel in Pittsburgh. Long term, he plans to work in the forensic accounting field to put his investigative instincts to good use once he gains more professional auditing experience.
“I still get excited about being able to peel back the world and do my military analysis,” he says.
“Accounting is a very marketable skill, a good career to have, and surprisingly blends well with the analytical and investigative skills I’ve gained through my military service,” he says.