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Born and raised in Trenton, N.J., Ana Gatson has had the opportunity to travel the world with the New Jersey Army National Guard, but her mission with her newly minted Master of Science in Management degree in Nonprofit Management is to help the underserved people in her hometown.
“When I retire from military service in two years, my plan is to work with a not-for profit organization that services, supports and advocates for immigrants,” Gatson explained.
It was the challenges early on in Gatson’s educational journey that led her to serve her country while improving her own prospects. After graduating high school, Gatson was accepted to a 4-year state university, but her parents were unable to afford it, so the only other option for her to pursue the education she wanted was to join the military.
“The military has provided the financial assistance I needed to get my associate and bachelor’s degrees and now my master’s,” she noted. “Because I was a member of the New Jersey National Guard, my tuition was covered completely. Thomas Edison State University’s online program provided me with the flexibility that I needed to earn my degree while serving my country and being a mother and a wife.”
Now with her MSM degree from TESU in hand, she will be able to use her education to help others. “My parents migrated to the United States from Guatemala before I was born, and I know the struggles that come with that. Therefore, I felt committed to assisting immigrants in transitioning into life in the USA,” Gatson said.
Serving in the military for 19 years and counting, Gatson has held a number of demanding commissions including communication specialist, human resource specialist, logistics officer, recruiter and training officer.
As an officer strength manager (OSM) until October 2018, Gatson was the primary officer recruiter and retainer for the N.J. Army National Guard and was responsible for achieving the officer recruiting mission assigned by the adjutant general to include chaplains, lawyers and medical professionals. Currently a captain, she serves as the Aide De Camp to General Officers in the N.J. National Guard and assists in coordinating meetings, preparing and reviewing correspondence and performing tasks and routines that save the generals’ time.
“I joined the military a week after turning 18 to pay for college, and I stayed for 19 years,” she explained. “Because of the amazing benefits the military provides, I have been able to travel all over the world and receive excellent educational benefits, and I have had the opportunity to work with some great people throughout my career.”
Among her many career accomplishments, the one she is most proud of was training to become an officer.
“The training was 18 months long and, after being in the military for eight years, it was hard to go back into an environment where you are treated like a private in basic training all over again,” she recalled. According to Gatson, there were only 18 graduates in her cohort, of which five were females. “It was an honor to graduate from Officer Candidate School (OCS) while being a single mother of two and working on my bachelor’s degree,” she said.
Gatson lives in Hamilton, N.J., with her husband, Jay, “who always believed and supported me in all my ambitions,” she notes, and her two children, Emanuel and Gabriel who, she said, provided “the motivation to better her life.” Julian, her stepson, has been a wonderful addition to her family, she noted.
“I have a support network that includes my amazing family along with friends who have gone above and beyond to assist me in fulfilling my personal and career goals,” Gatson said. She added that her entire family was there to help – when she needed a babysitter, to drive her kids to an event because she was serving her country, to move into her house, or take care of her sons for five months while she was away at military training (special thanks to sister, Sabrina) while attending every graduation and promotion.
Reminiscing about her childhood in New Jersey’s capital city, Gatson recalled, “I have so many fond memories of growing up in Trenton: being able to hear the train every morning and cooling off from the summer heat at the fire hydrant with 20 other kids. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the city and its people. That’s why I wanted to get a degree that I could use to help those who are under-represented in my community.”
To learn more about the John S. Watson School of Public Service programs, visit tesu.edu/watson.