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For Michael Zotoo, Higher Education Is the Key to a Navy Leadership Position

Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of more than a dozen graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
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As a child growing up in West Africa, Michael Zotoo believed he was destined to become a military officer like his beloved uncle, now a brigadier general.

“I was very close to my uncle, who was a colonel in the Ghana Army when I was young,” said Zotoo. “I was an excellent student and shared many traits with my uncle, so it was assumed that I would follow his footsteps and join the military.” 

But Zotoo discovered that joining the military in Ghana was not easy. “The supply was much higher than the demand,” he said. “The entire military takes only around 100 officer candidates out of 3,000 applicants per cycle.”   

Since a career as a military officer in Ghana might not be an option for him after all, Zotoo entered university out of high school and worked in a variety of jobs, including in radio and in banking. Then, when an opportunity to emigrate to the United States arose, Zotoo took it. 

He left Ghana in 2018 unsure of his career path but hoping that living and working in the United States would allow him to help his family back home. Not long after his U.S. arrival, he decided his desire to serve in the military was still strong. So, in 2019, he joined the Navy. 

Early in his military career, Zotoo set two goals for himself: become a U.S. citizen and get his bachelor’s degree so that he could put himself on the path to become an officer. He enrolled at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), where he is graduating top of his class—with magna cum laude honors—with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He also serves as a UMGC social media ambassador, selected to follow and share news and activities with the online community. 

Carrying forward with that momentum, he is now pursuing a master’s degree in intelligence management.

Balancing school with his military career was not without hurdles. And he found UMGC to be a big transition. 

“Coming from a traditional classroom setting to online school was like a night and day difference,” he said. “But once I left my comfort zone, I asked questions, I was consistent and persistent, and kept going.” 

In just under four years in the Navy, Zotoo has completed his bachelor’s degree, risen to Master at Arms Aviation Warfare Specialist Petty Officer 2nd Class, and is a proud U.S citizen. He currently works as a law enforcement specialist with a specialty as a military working dog handler. 

To anyone unsure about continuing their education, Zotoo offers two words: “Don't settle.” 

 “It's very easy in the military to get used to the routine. Always endeavor to ask for more,” he said.

Zotoo certainly is not settling. He believes that education will help him rise to a leadership position in the military where he can impact the lives of others and his country in helpful ways. 

“I know that education never stops, so I plan to keep going,” he said. “In five years, I see myself in a leadership position where I can affect a lot of positive change in the military.” 

Zotoo aspires to work in the White House or the Pentagon. 

“I will be doing something cool for the Navy, that is my dream,” he said.