From the Uniform to the Office
Jill McShane, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, joined the U.S. Navy at 18 and for the next 20 years, that was the only life she knew. As the time to retire from military service came closer, McShane was unsure how to best transition to civilian life. Then a conversation with a colleague who had earned an associate degree at Excelsior College sparked a direction, and the transition plan began to take shape.
McShane joined the Navy in April 2001 as a cryptologic technician–collection, which includes intercepting signals to provide tactical and strategic intelligence, technical guidance, and information to ships and special warfare units. The job includes reporting threats to protect the fleet and save lives. McShane emailed her unofficial transcripts to Excelsior and discovered she only needed four courses to earn an associate degree in liberal arts, which she earned in August 2019. She then discovered she only needed to complete seven courses to earn a bachelor’s degree and earned that in July 2020. “With Excelsior, I am surprised how many credits they applied for my military service,” she says.
The hardest part about attending school online, says McShane, was trying to balance coursework with being a single mother to two young boys. Luckily, McShane’s parents came to live with her for a time while she was attending Excelsior. She also made sure to balance her courses, following her academic advisor’s advice by taking the right mix of courses to be successful. Before she knew it, McShane had earned her degrees and then used them to apply for an internship through a Department of Defense program called SkillBridge, which provides service members with civilian work experience during their last 180 days of service.
“Trying to find a job post-retirement is a little scary, a little daunting. I’ve never interviewed for a job. I joined the Navy when I was 18 years old, so this is all I’ve really known,” explains McShane. Through the SkillBridge program, she made a request to her commanding officer to take an internship for her final six months of service. “I found one through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation called Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship, and there was a requirement to have a degree. Had I not had an associate or bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t have qualified for this program. I set myself up so nicely for retirement, and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
McShane interned at Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and information technology consulting firm, and when her internship ended, she was hired full-time as an associate. The most surprising thing to McShane was the difference between the corporate world and the military world. “I think just getting into corporate America and losing the uniformity and the formalness is what really surprised me…and [during] my internship was how everyone goes by first name, and I’m just not used to that,” she says.
In her role at Booz Allen Hamilton, McShane is an associate with the Navy-Marine Corps team, where she maintains and supports relationships with stakeholders in the Navy and the Marine Corps. Booz Allen Hamilton supports and employs many veterans retiring from service, something that is important to McShane. She explains that she enjoys helping people to give back to the veteran’s community.
McShane separated from the Navy in June 2021, just before earning a Master of Science in Management from Excelsior in July 2021. She had also applied military experience toward that degree, earning nine credit hours for her time at the Navy Senior Enlisted Academy in 2015. As it turned out, she had only needed seven courses to earn the master’s degree, and she chose the MS in Management program based on her interest in business and human resources. Having earned three degrees in just over two years, McShane is proud she pursued her education. “I am thrilled that I gave myself that gift,” she says.