Academic Trailblazer

Victor Almodovar excels as a first-generation college graduate

Like most people, Victor Almodovar wanted to accomplish the goal of earning his college degree. He was a Puerto Rican American with very little knowledge of the English language and needed to advance his education not only to improve his standing within the U.S. Navy, but also to benefit his future. In 2015, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree. He followed up that degree with a Master of Science in Management, which he earned in 2020.

As a child, Almodovar, now of Chesapeake, Virginia, grew up playing baseball in Puerto Rico and did not think higher education was in his future. As the second oldest of five brothers, he had other responsibilities and his mother couldn’t afford the expense. In 1989, at 17 years old, he decided to join the Navy as a way to improve his career prospects. He started as an ABE, an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, preparing catapult and arresting gear systems for planes before take-off and after landing, and only intended to stay for four years. Instead, he took the Aviation Ordnance Advancement Test, a test required for sailors to be promoted in rank, and he has been doing that for 29 of his 31 years of active-duty service.

Joining the Navy allowed Almodovar to learn English because he became fully immersed in the language. “During the 10 weeks at NRTC Orlando (boot camp), it took me a few moments of high stress and being afraid of failing to push myself harder to listen and speak, allowing me to understand the information given more clearly,” he says. Over time, Almodovar began to pick up English more easily and that led him to decide to pursue a degree.

In 1998, Almodovar went back to school to complete some English, math, and social studies requirements in preparation to his further education. Around 2008, he decided to continue working on his education, but it wasn’t until 2013 when he met his now-wife that he began seriously pursuing his education, with her encouragement. He started taking courses with Central Texas College, a partner college of Excelsior, to complete written English requirements, and finally, in 2013, he discovered that the Navy also partnered with Excelsior and the College had the programs he wanted to pursue for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “They said Excelsior was the best for management degrees and that I would like that,” he recalls, adding that his academic advisor helped him choose the courses that would best align with his military responsibilities.

Multiple deployments and time away from home and family, without easy means of communication like cell phones and computers, made pursuing his education hard at first. Throughout it all, as he completed first his bachelor’s and then his master’s degree, Almodovar’s wife and mother encouraged and supported him. “With [my wife’s] influence and my mother’s always loving recommendations, I pushed through one class at a time, completing not just a degree but a master’s with honors,” he says, adding that he is also a member of Sigma Beta Delta International Honor Society for business, management, and administration. Now, Almodovar has used much of what he has learned from his degrees in his position as master chief, in charge of training management and support.

At the Training Support Center Hampton Roads Student Management facility in Norfolk, Virginia, Almodovar oversees a staff that takes care of the administrative aspects of military students’ records. The facility welcomes national and international students from places such as Africa, Italy, South America, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. “We deal with close to 5,000 students a quarter,” he says. He notes that during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been difficult to manage things because when students arrive, they need to be quarantined for 14 days before their classes start. Through his master’s degree, he has gained knowledge that is necessary for him to do his job properly; he says he has especially benefited from Excelsior’s global business and the management capstone courses.

Almodovar says it’s a great feeling to know he is the first in his family to become a college graduate. Sadly, his father passed away just five days after he earned his master’s degree, but Almodovar says it means a lot to know he was proud of his accomplishments. He says the reason he can say he is a graduate is because of his family. “My mother’s teachings as me and my siblings grew up and her drive to ensure we always gave our best at whatever we did, and my wife’s encouragement, are the primary reasons I became a first-generation college graduate,” he says.

After Almodovar retires from the Navy in 2021, he plans to take some time off to spend with his family, and then he might use his management background to open his own business. Just as he has learned to persevere thanks to his mother’s teachings and encouragement, he hopes to instill the same lessons in his children. “Because they have witnessed how hard their mom and I had to work to get to where we are today… [it] gives them the drive to aim for further education for a better future,” he says, and adds, “There’s only one person that can stop you, and that is yourself.”