An Interview with Penney McCay
“Students need to be optimistic and curious about the future. You also need to be open-minded and courageous. Studying online can be challenging and intimidating, but if you have a good attitude overall, you will be successful.”
Penney McCay is studying to earn her online Bachelor of Arts in Homeland Security at American Military University. She expects to graduate in 2014. She holds an Associate of Science in Crime Scene Investigation from Everest University, Pompano Beach, Florida, and an Associate of Science in Private Investigation from City College, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Penney decided to earn her bachelors degree in homeland security because she was looking for a career change and needed to gain new skills. She was homeless while attending City College for her associates degree. She believes that nothing should stop someone from achieving their academic goals.
In your own words, what is homeland security?
Homeland security is a very large area of services, institutions and departments dedicated to providing emergency services and community protection. The scope of homeland security is currently being expanded and redefined.
Why did you choose to get a bachelors degree in homeland security online?
I chose to earn my bachelors degree in homeland security at American Military University after spending many years working on solving crimes. I wanted to change my profession, and I knew that I didn’t want to go into the Justice Department. While I was living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was in town because of a recent storm, and they were delivering food to people. I thought that I would enjoy helping out in times of disaster, and I thought it would be a great way for me to stay employed for the next 10 years, since I am in my 50s right now.
What do you find most and least enjoyable about studying homeland security?
I enjoy learning about so many different aspects of government and emergency response. In my program, I have learned about how FEMA responds during a natural disaster, how they are associated with the Homeland Security Department, and what new laws are being put into play that could affect how we respond to emergencies. It is all great information to have as a citizen.
What I least enjoy about my program, however, are my math classes. I am particularly not looking forward to taking algebra.
When you first considered studying homeland security online what were your expectations?
When I first thought about studying for my bachelors degree in homeland security online, I thought that I would be able to gain skills that could serve the public in an emergency while I am at home. I am disabled, so studying from home is the best and most realistic option for me.
What kinds of classes have you taken in your homeland security program?
I have taken many preparedness classes as well as classes in terrorism prevention, criminality and online security. I think that the skills and knowledge that are taught in homeland security bachelors degree programs would be very valuable to a lot of different people and professions, including private investigators.
Which of these classes do you think will be most valuable for your future goals?
I think that all of my classes will contribute something meaningful to my life, though I have particularly benefited from the emergency preparedness classes and the classes on terrorism. I am also a singer/songwriter, so I appreciated my English classes since I got the chance to develop my writing.
What classes do you feel will be least useful?
I think that my math and science classes will be the least useful for me in my future goals, and they are also the classes that I have least enjoyed so far.
What resources do you use to help you succeed in your studies?
I use American Military University’s online library, which is a great resource. The online class system overall is a good resource as well because we can share so much information as a class. Teachers will often post other students’ papers to show examples of good work, and I have found this to be very helpful.
How do you interact with your professors?
I usually interact with my instructors online using the message board system. Once I did call an instructor, and he was actually in the middle of a meeting, but he took the time to pick up his phone. He tried his best to answer my question, and I appreciated that he went out of his way to answer my call.
Are you able to interact with your peers while studying online?
Yes, I am able to interact with my peers as an online student. We interact mostly in the online discussion forums and we share information with each other that is important for our coursework and also information about what is happening in the world.
What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in a homeland security program and what traits would hinder success?
Students need to be optimistic and curious about the future. You also need to be open-minded and courageous. Studying online can be challenging and intimidating, but if you have a good attitude overall, you will be successful.
On the other hand, if you have low self-esteem or are afraid to take risks and make mistakes, you will have a harder time succeeding as an online student.
What is your weekly schedule?
I do my coursework from home, and since I don’t currently work due to my disability, I have a flexible schedule.
How do you manage your course load? What study tips would you give to a prospective student?
One study tip that I have for prospective students is to not study for too long. Make sure that you take a break and return to your work and recheck it. If you step away for several hours, or take a whole day away from your writing, you will be able to return with a different frame of mind and notice mistakes that you might not see otherwise.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After I graduate with my bachelors degree in homeland security, I plan to look for a job that I can do on the Internet, or a role that I can play to serve the public when there is a natural disaster. I hope to connect with FEMA or find a position through a job fair.
Do you think the fact that you studied online will affect your job prospects?
No, I don’t think that studying online will affect my job prospects. After all, this is 2012. I think there is this perspective that studying online and not being able to see your instructors or classmates will have a negative impact on your ability to learn, and a negative ability on society in general. But people thought this about the telephone when it was first introduced too. I don’t think that I am losing anything by studying online.
Now that you have completed 3 years of your homeland security program, if you could go back to high school, what would you do differently?
If I could go back to high school, I wouldn’t quit before earning my diploma. When I was a kid, I was in a car accident that made it very difficult to keep up with my work and stay focused. I eventually went back for my GED, but I missed out on the social aspect of finishing high school. I would have liked to feel that excitement and make those social connections at that age.
If you were to redo the past 3 years of college, what would you do differently?
I don’t think that I would do anything differently because I have spent many years doing crime scene investigations and I am burnt out on it. Getting my degree in homeland security was the best choice that I could make for myself.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying homeland security online?
I would advise students who want to earn their online degrees to never give up. I have overcome many adversities in my life and I have been able to do it. If I can do it, you can do it too.