When Jeffrey Simko stepped off the bus with other U.S. Marine Corps recruits to begin boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., he was fulfilling a long-held promise to himself. He was only 11 when the USS Cole was bombed in October 2000, but it was then that Simko made the decision to one day serve his country.
Jeffrey Simko, third from left, is pictured here with his adviser, Lawrence Gilpatric, chair of the Department of Business Technology, and student trustees Alan Bowdler, far left, and Ryan Thompson, far right, at the Dec. 12 Board of Trustees meeting.
Living up to that promise has required sacrifices on Simko's part, beginning with his high school graduation. On the same day St. Edward High School in Lakewood held commencement exercises for the Class of 2006, Simko was reporting for duty, because boot camp waits for no recruit. And Simko, who enrolled at UA as soon as he finished his initial months of training, went on to serve in Afghanistan in two phases of Operation Enduring Freedom, which meant long absences from campus as well as his family and friends.
But he has no regrets, as Simko told UA's Board of Trustees, along with others in attendance at the Dec. 12 Board meeting, where he made a presentation on his Akron Experience.
"When you walk off that bus, it is culture shock," admits Simko. "You walk into a very structured way of life. There are yellow footprints painted on the pavement so that you learn to walk in formation right from the start. I've never worked so hard in my life — I did a lot of growing up very fast."
As decisive as he was about military service, Simko was just the opposite when choosing a degree to pursue.
He credits his adviser, Lawrence Gilpatric, chair of the Department of Business Technology, with guiding him to find the right fit. He also praises the Military Service Center staff for helping him acclimate to campus life after his deployments and get the most from the benefits he had earned.
"UA is very military-friendly, and I am grateful for all the help and support I have gotten here," says Simko.
So, on Dec. 15, three days after his Board presentation, Simko finally got to don a cap and gown and attend commencement — this time to receive a Bachelor of Organizational Supervision. Not only does the degree match his interests and experience, it will help him to achieve his next goal — to become an officer in the Marine Corps.
For now, Simko is working in the mortgage department at Quicken Loans in Cleveland while he awaits acceptance into Officer Candidate School.
"I want to make a career of the Marine Corps," says Simko. "With my experience, and my degree, I have a good grasp on what it takes to be a good leader, a mentor and a manager, so that I can help those in my command reach their full potential."