The Importance of Education

Angie Zalinsky’s determination leads her to earning degrees and focusing on a post-military career in teaching

Angie Zalinsky of Dublin, Georgia, is the only person in her immediate family to graduate high school and to earn a bachelor’s degree. Education has always been important to her, and earning a college degree was a goal she was determined to meet. Zalinsky earned a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College, now teaches middle school students, and is on her way to earning a master’s degree.

While the rest of her family members did not finish their high school careers, Zalinsky was resolute in her intention to follow a different path. Even though she was close to dropping out after having and losing a child at 17 years old, she was committed to graduating from high school. After graduation, she joined the U.S. Army to explore what the world outside her small town had to offer. She ended up making a career of it and retired in May 2021.

Several years prior to retiring from the Army, Zalinsky looked into colleges that were military friendly and came across Excelsior. She needed something online so that she could balance studies with being a single mom of three teenagers and often being away for military reasons. “Doing my bachelor’s degree was a dream for me because I wanted to show my kids it doesn’t matter what age you are—where you’re at in life—you need your education.” Zalinsky also encouraged her parents and sister to earn their GEDs. Her sister ended up becoming a cosmetologist and her mother became a substitute teacher.

Zalinsky earned a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences in December 2020 and says because of her education from Excelsior, she was able to move into a master’s program with Virginia Tech. She is especially interested in showing her children that with determination, they can meet their educational goals. “I don’t think that I’m better than anybody,” says Zalinsky. “I have fought very hard for everything that I have and everything that I’m doing… It’s because I want them to see that hard work and dedication and direction will get you where you want to go.”

Since retiring from the Army and earning her degree, Zalinsky has become a teacher of agriculture to inner-city children in her community. Growing up in the country and being wildlife certified makes this a great fit for Zalinsky. Teaching inner-city kids can be difficult though; many children have never seen wildlife up close or even touched some of the animals they are learning about. Zalinsky has been able to use some of what she’s learned in her master’s program in teaching urban agriculture. “We’re going to do a vertical wall, an herb wall, and then we’re doing hydroponics, and so I’m trying to teach them how they can literally grow food in their home in a small corner of their house for virtually nothing and have food year-round,” Zalinsky says, and adds that teaching makes her feel like she has a bigger purpose for being here.

Zalinsky wants to become superintendent so she can have more of an effect on the education of children in her community. She believes in the power of learning and the importance of education and wants to encourage every child to pursue their educational goals. She thinks by helping others, she can help improve the world. “If we were all a little bit better, and we all worry just a little bit about our neighbor, or somebody other than ourselves, our world would be a different place,” she says.

More from Angie Zalinsky:

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Honestly, I think the best advice actually would have come from one of my undergrad teachers…She called me on the phone, and she told me never underestimate the ability that you have within. It’s only when we start underestimating ourselves and doubting ourselves that we fail…it’s when you don’t get back up, that’s when you fail. As long as you get back up, you’re going to continue to succeed.”

What is your inspiration for teaching?

“Nobody taught me how to get into college. Nobody showed me the way. Nobody told me there are scholarships that you can apply for. Nobody told me the steps to take. Nobody told me my GPA counted. The way I’ve seen it is that the [high school guidance] counselors were really only focused on the kids who were making good grades. They didn’t care about the kids who were potentially failing or almost failing. Those kids need a career too. I need to do something more. I was like ‘maybe this is what I’m supposed to do after my military career.’”