Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.
The first week in April was an important milestone in the life of Brandon Perkins.
On April 6, the Chief Petty Officer marked his retirement ceremony from the Navy after 23 years of service at the Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Japan. Two days later, he took part in a graduation ceremony in Tokyo marking the completion of his bachelor’s degree from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).
“My family was also able to not only attend my retirement ceremony, but my graduation as well,” he said.
Now, with a degree in hand, he and his wife and children are positioned to launch a new life and a new career.
Perkins, a native of Griffin, Georgia, enlisted in the military in 1997. The 23-year-old trained as an aircraft mechanic before his service took him to Navy air facilities in Florida, Texas, Maryland, and Oklahoma. His final assignment was in Japan. He attained the rank of senior chief in 2016.
Perkins’ work toward a college degree had been off and on during his military career. He took some classes with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University while serving in Jacksonville, Florida. When he was transferred to Texas, his formal education stopped for nearly a decade before he took more courses through the senior enlisted academy at the Naval War College in Rhode Island.
Not until he got to Japan, with retirement fast approaching, did he seek out UMGC classes beginning in June 2021.
Perkins learned about UMGC through friends. But He credits Nathan Jerka, his academic advisor, with doing the most to help him stay the course to complete his degree.
“He was just outstanding,” Perkins said of Jerka. “He helped me achieve my goals. He got me on the right trajectory, telling me what classes I needed to take, cheering me along.”
While Perkins worked full time, taking as many UMGC classes as he could, he was also studying toward a Green Belt certification through Lean Sigma Six, a specialized training program in leadership and efficiency.
His goal had been to get both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree before leaving the Navy. But with so much on his plate already, Jerka suggested that he concentrate on a bachelor’s degree in general studies.
During Covid restrictions, all his classes were online. But once in-person classes opened up, he jumped at the opportunity to take classes offered by UMGC at Camp Zama Army Garrison, about a 30-minute drive away, through the intense Tokyo metro area traffic.
He chose a general studies major because it offered the most flexible coursework and a degree he could complete on the schedule he envisioned. But he soon found professors and courses that piqued his interest, such as a course in Japanese culture that helped him appreciate the country where he was stationed.
Perkins said he wasn’t thrilled about the writing classes he had to take until he met Professor James Wyatt, who had decades of experience in the classroom.
“He's just a genuine person,” Perkins said. “I felt very comfortable going to him. You could ask him anything, and he would give you honest and candid feedback that you need to be successful not just in that class but in your future endeavors.”
With a 4.0 GPA, Perkins graduates summa cum laude from UMGC. He was also accepted to the honor society, Phi Kappa Phi.
Perkins hasn’t figured out what comes next. His wife put her X-ray technician career on hold as she followed him around to different military bases. Now is the time, he said, to let her take the lead. The family will move back to a house they have in Ormond Beach, Florida, while their children finish high school and college.
Perkins is thinking about pursuing an advanced degree in organizational management. He believes that combining it with his military leadership skills will qualify him for consultancy work, helping companies in trouble.
His educational experience has turned him into a major advocate for UMGC, pushing his colleagues to enroll at the university.
“I just, I tell them that if you want to go to a good school and get a good education and talk to some good people, go here because for me it was super simple,” he said, citing the help he received from Jerka and others on staff who, he said, were helpful and truly cared.
"It's not just about how many people can we get in the door. It's about how many people we can help to improve their lives … [and] change the future for the better.”