Bettering Herself

Melissa Burger pursues higher education to improve her and her family’s lives

Full-time student, mother of four, and busy wife Melissa Burger, of Michigan, took advantage of her military benefits to return to school with Excelsior College to pursue her higher education. While going to school for an associate degree in liberal arts, which she earned in 2017, and a bachelor’s in liberal arts, earned in 2018, Burger became interested in cybersecurity from her IT courses. She has since decided to pursue a master’s in cybersecurity with Excelsior to challenge herself and increase opportunities for future employment.

Burger didn’t have plans to join the military, that is, until she acquired student loan debt from attending traditional brick-and-mortar colleges. A friend introduced her to the military’s intelligence community. Burger became interested in becoming a linguist and, after doing some research, decided the Air Force was the best place for her. From 2000-2004, Burger was a cryptologic language analyst, specializing in Arabic. Though the specific details of her job are top-secret, Burger was responsible for translating, transcribing, and analyzing messages.

Burger says she is driven to finish what she starts and completing her education is no different, which she says, kept being pushed aside for other life priorities. She supported her husband while he attended medical school and cared for her children—one with special needs—putting her education on the back burner. “One day, I realized that I was trying to create an incredible future for everyone else but had forgotten that I could make their future better by bettering myself,” she says. Burger heard about Excelsior from a friend and immediately contacted the admissions office.

The process of applying and submitting the required documents was simple, Burger says. “Excelsior evaluated my credits and transferred over the majority of them, including those that were obtained in my military training,” she says, adding that she also used her GI Bill to cover many of her expenses.

Burger decided to pursue liberal arts for her associate and bachelor’s degrees because of the broad foundation it provides. “I felt like it afforded me the opportunity to develop a broad knowledge base that would allow me several avenues to pursue,” she says. After taking some IT courses, she discovered how exciting the cyber field is and decided it would be enjoyable and challenging to learn something that would be out of her element. Shortly after she earned her bachelor’s in 2018, she re-enrolled in Excelsior’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity program.

Excelsior’s online platform and flexible course structure has proven to be perfect for Burger’s studying habits. “Online learning allows me to continue my education in a setting that is conducive to my family’s lifestyle and needs,” she says. Burger’s family has been understanding and supportive of her education. Sometimes, she says, she has to take her books with her on their outings or reschedule fun events. “I am grateful for the sacrifices [my family] has made so that I can finally check off this goal,” she says. Excelsior faculty members have also been helpful in answering Burger’s questions and supporting her. She also relies on her classmates when she needs help with coursework or navigating online learning.

Burger has also taken advantage of Excelsior’s welcoming online community by joining the Excelsior College student chapter of the National Cybersecurity Student Association. She says she has engaged with experienced students and mentors while part of the club and been able to learn from videos, documents, and training that she wouldn’t normally have been aware of. “I have been able to gain skills and learn techniques that I would never have had the opportunity to learn or apply further in the classroom,” she says. She has also been able to join with the chapter as it participates bi-annually in the National Cyber League competitions, competing against other colleges to solve real-life cybersecurity problems.

The cybersecurity practice is good for Burger, who plans to work in the cybersecurity field, though she isn’t sure quite where she wants to land. She is researching and creating a plan on how to obtain further certifications to prove she is prepared to work in the cybersecurity arena. She is happy she made the move to pursue her education and encourages others—especially other veterans—to do the same. It’s important to make time for your future now, says Burger, adding, “You are worth it, and there are many people, including Excelsior’s Veterans Center, the ever-so-helpful library staff, and your academic advisor who will support you. You are worth a better paying job, more self-confidence, that promotion at work, and so much more.”