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Passion for Tech Propels Rhoda Viernes Nuesca to Three UMGC Degrees

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.

Mary Dempsey
By Mary Dempsey
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Many alumni of University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) pursued degrees to progress in their jobs or change careers. Something else drove the educational journey of Rodielyn Viernes Nuesca.

Viernes Nuesca, who goes by the nickname Rhoda, studies because she loves technology and can’t learn enough about it. 

“I’ve always been a learner. I’m a technician in the Navy and I want to know the whats and whys behind the concepts I use in my job,” she said.  

This fascination with technology drove her to leave a career in nursing, join the military and collect degree after degree. Her new Master of Science in Cybersecurity Technology joins several other UMGC academic credentials, including an Associate of Arts, an undergraduate certificate in cybersecurity and a bachelor’s degree in computer networks and cybersecurity.

If UMGC ever offers a doctorate degree in cybersecurity, she’s jumping on board with that, too, she said.

Viernes Nuesca put herself on a relentless track to her degrees—forging ahead through a pregnancy, post-partum depression, the breakdown of her marriage, more depression and Navy assignments that took her to three continents.  

“I pushed through to finish while I was active duty so I would be able to transfer my Navy education benefits to my daughter,” she said. “That is one of the benefits of the Navy.”

Viernes Nuesca joined the Navy at age 23, in part because of the education benefits and in part so she could see the world. She enlisted in Seattle and her UMGC academic journey began in 2013 when she was stationed aboard a Navy vessel in Yokosuka, Japan. It continued through a transfer to Naples, Italy, the birth of her daughter and her current assignment in San Diego. She said UMGC academic counselors were indispensable in helping her map out an academic plan.

“The academic advisers in Naples helped me so much. I was always in their office,” she said

“At first, I didn’t know what to major in or whether I should declare a minor. I went for an associate degree in general studies.” UMGC also gave her credit for her earlier studies to become a nurse in the Philippines, where she grew up.

She finished the associate degree and certificate but wanted a bachelor’s degree. After she transferred to Italy, married another Navy tech specialist and became pregnant with her daughter, she decided it was time to go for that next degree.  

“Taking classes while pregnant and working for the Navy was a lot,” she recalled. “I went through post-partum depression, my marriage fell apart, we had a custody battle, I was a new mother and I worried all the time.”

Still, she said, her studies helped her “re-center and refocus.” She set a self-imposed deadline that hinged on when her land-based assignment would end and she’d be back at sea—and she stuck to it, taking class after class. She kept at it even when she felt overwhelmed. Her father visited from the Philippines from time to time to help out. 

She completed her bachelor’s degree in 2018, then she was on to her master’s degree. 

She enrolled in the graduate program in winter 2019. She twice had to withdraw and retake her first graduate-level course—a class focused on writing and communications. Her daughter was a bit older by then so Viernes Nuesca could also build in what she characterized as one of her coping mechanisms: travel. She took advantage of being in Europe by backpacking with her child.

An upcoming transfer to a ship bound for San Diego—her new duty station—made Viernes Nuesca strategize her course load. Since internet access aboard ship can be difficult, she front-loaded all her lab classes so she could complete them before she went to sea.

“At times, I remember my daughter would want to sleep in my room but she couldn’t because I needed the light on late to study and do my homework,” she said. “We had a routine. She’d ask me what time it was and I’d say, ‘Homework time.’”

Absent a doctoral degree program in cybersecurity at UMGC, Viernes Nuesca has found other ways to continue building her skills. For example, she’s currently waiting to see if she has been accepted into a Navy cyber warfare engineering program.   

She also pointed out that her tech interest, as well as that of her former husband, is rubbing off on their now 7-year-old daughter. “She’s interested in tech stuff. She thinks it’s fun. She wants to learn hacking!” she said.

Viernes Nuesca comes by her respect for education honestly. Her grandmother made sure all her children received education beyond secondary school, and multiple family members have college degrees. Viernes Nuesca laughs when she talks about breaking the next barrier for the family.

“I want to be the first one to have a Ph.D. I want to be the first one they’re going to call ‘Doctor,’” she said.