UMUC students are well known for juggling a lot of obligations and opportunities, but Rebecca Johnson Stone seems to be taking it to new heights.
A former head princess of her native Chickasaw Nation tribe in Ada, Oklahoma, Rebecca was in her third year at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, majoring in biochemistry and math and well on her way to completing her degree when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 changed her plans.
"Service to our country is profound among the people of my tribe," she said. She immediately dropped out of college and followed the tradition of her father, uncle, and grandfather by joining the military.
Enlisting in the Army, she has worked in intelligence, rising to staff sergeant while serving nine months in the Iraq war and at other bases as an analyst. For three years she served in England, which gave her time to complete her associate's degree through UMUC in general studies.
Then she turned her attention to earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, with a minor in biology, which she is close to completing, along with an undergraduate certificate in Applied Behavioral and Social Sciences.
"I may not have had this opportunity if it wasn't for the flexibility that UMUC gave me," she said. "I have been to several different countries, sometimes for a couple of days and sometimes for a couple of months. I have been able to take my school work with me and have professors who understand that every once in a while I may be delayed because of a mission or a crisis."
After her tour in Iraq ended in 2009, Stone served for one year in a White House internship program, working in the Vice President's office of national security affairs.
"On my first day, I answered the phone and the caller asked for one of the advisors," she recalled. "I asked who was calling, and he said, 'Joe.' I asked, 'Joe who?' And he said, 'Joe Biden.' I said, 'Mr. Vice President, sir, I am not going to call you Joe.'"
Now based at Ft. Meade and living with her husband in Columbia, Maryland—and with her enlistment coming to an end in a few months, Stone, 31, said she is ready to begin a graduate program through the University System of Maryland.
"I want to put my love of the intelligence field together with my love of sciences and then still be able to use what I went to school for—my psych degree—and put them all into one place," she said. "I didn't think that was going to be possible until I went to the National Science Foundation and found these were fields that are really needed."
Along the way, she has taken up a different kind of cause. A victim of sexual assault herself, Stone launched "Walk Against Rape" to try to raise the level of awareness, much the way the Susan G. Komen Foundation has raised public awareness of breast cancer.
"One in six female civilians will be sexually assaulted and one in three female servicemembers will be sexually assaulted," Stone said. "They have all these races and walks and resources for cancer, so why is it that something that affects a much larger percentage of people has nothing?"
Her goal is to organize 52 walks in 52 cities across the country in one year. The money raised will stay in the respective communities to support services such as hotlines and nurse training for rape victims.
Stone has already organized three walks, which attracted a few hundred participants. But the relatively modest turnout hasn't discouraged or surprised Stone.
"It's a taboo topic," she said. "A lot of people are afraid to say sexual assault or rape. I want to change that."