A nutrition degree from Purdue Global kept this military mom’s dream alive
As the daughter of an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Danielle Finch (BS nutrition, Purdue Global ’23) always wanted to enlist herself, but not until she was done with her bachelor’s degree. That would enable her to begin as a commissioned officer, which offered the workload and pay that would work best for someone with a family to support.
But things didn’t go to plan. She and her husband became parents before she could finish her bachelor’s degree, and she withdrew from classes. After a few years and another baby, career instability and a failing marriage rattled her family, so she attempted to stabilize the situation by enlisting early.
Within a year, though, it was all in ruins. She was divorced, had sole responsibility for two small children, and worked the heavy hours and low pay of an entry-level military job usually occupied by someone 10 years younger. A comeback seemed like a lifetime away.
But it wasn’t.
Taking the first step
When she found out during college that she was pregnant, Finch didn’t hesitate to shift her focus. Because, when she pictured her life ahead, the bottom line was family.
“Being a mom was the one thing I knew I wanted to do,” she says.
Doing it alone wasn’t how she’d imagined it, though. When a divorce became inevitable, she secured a transfer opportunity to the Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, where her parents could provide support while she tried to figure out her new life.
“It was at that point when I realized I had all these things I wanted to accomplish. I just didn’t know how to do them all,” she says. “So, I told myself just to take the first step.”
Purdue Global stood out because it’s a known name. And it offers a Bachelor of Science, which is huge when you’re trying to apply to programs later on.Danielle Finch
BS Nutrition ’23, Purdue Global
That would be her bachelor’s degree. She knew if she had that, she’d be able to move up the ranks of the Air Force, which meant more time at home with her girls and less stress trying to make entry-level pay stretch across three people.
The first hurdle was her area of study. When she’d previously worked on a degree, she studied dietetics with the hope of becoming a registered dietitian. But most online programs in STEM disciplines either had in-person requirements or awarded a certificate or degree lesser than a bachelor’s. Purdue Global grabbed her attention because of Purdue’s powerful presence in STEM and its solid history in fully online education.
“Looking ahead, I thought, ‘How do I become competitive?’ Purdue Global stood out because it’s a known name,” she says. “And it offers a Bachelor of Science, which is huge when you’re trying to apply to programs later on.”
Finch started slowly – just one class at a time – and then got deployed.
School during deployment
Sent to Washington, D.C., as part of the White House Medical Unit from March through October 2022, Finch says the experience was her turning point as a student and as a person.
It was the first time she’d ever lived by herself. She was deployed with 26 other people who were younger and in a completely different phase of life. While the rest of her colleagues would go out at night, she wanted to be intentional about how she spent her time away from home. She struggled with knowing how to make the best use of her time.
“They were telling me, ‘This is your time away from your kids! You should be going out with us!’ It was hard because I had the same thought. This was the only time in my life I’d ever had time like this to focus on me,” she says. “I questioned myself. Maybe I should be going out. Or maybe I should just do something on my own and enjoy.
“They weren’t making bad points. But those points weren’t going to get me where I was hoping to go. I really had to take a step back and think about why I’m doing what I’m doing. Why does it matter to me?”
She thought back to what it was like at home, trying to balance school with full-time work and kids – even though she wasn’t taking a heavy course load. She already had precious little time with them. But she valued her team, too, and knew how important it was for a deployed unit to build trust.
In the end, she decided to take a term off to get to know her colleagues, and then dove into full-time schooling alongside full-time work. By the time she returned home in October 2022, she had completed most of her studies.
A degree that opens doors
While Finch is thankful she had the chance to do the bulk of her schoolwork at a time when she wasn’t with her kids anyway, she says it was still hard at times for the girls, who are 10 and eight years old, to understand what Mom was trying to do and why it was important. She thought, maybe, being able to see the graduation ceremonies might help it make sense.
But even more than that, she aspires for them to grow up with a solid understanding of what her benefits as a member of the Air Force will do for them.
“Both of my kids will have college paid for. As a single mom, that’s huge,” she says. “For them to be able to come to the ceremony puts a little more context behind the military benefit.”
And she wants them to see, in the end, that it was all for their family.
“I want them to actually watch me walk the stage, see the celebration, rather than just see a piece of paper on my wall, so they can understand what was behind it. All of that time missed and the work put in, this is what it’s for,” she says.
“I’m sure they won’t be super pumped about sitting through the ceremony,” she says, laughing. “Will they understand it? No, but I think they’ll remember.”
Now, as she transitions into her new role as an officer, her life is moving forward.
“For me, having my bachelor’s degree keeps the door open. If I want to be a registered dietitian, I can. But another one I’ve thought about is health care administration; I could go that route, too,” she says. “I’m not quite sure how I’m going to use it yet. But I had to take this dream of what I wanted to do and decide I was going to own this. And this is mine.
“You can’t give up on yourself. If you want it bad enough, there’s a way to do it.”
You can’t give up on yourself. If you want it bad enough, there’s a way to do it.Danielle Finch BS Nutrition ’23, Purdue Global