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Studying from remote areas of the world, a Homeland Security degree leads to new assignments.
Marcelo Dossantos didn’t speak a word of English when he sat down in an American classroom for the first time at the age of 9. Life at that time was about assimilating and blending in.
As an immigrant from Brazil, Dossantos overcame the language and cultural barriers he encountered to integrate into his new surroundings – he blended in.
As an adult, however, Dossantos found himself wanting to stand out.
He was serving as a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard when he began looking for a way to distinguish himself from his colleagues who all received the same training and wore the same uniform as he did. He turned to education for that solution.
“Training in the military is very centralized and standardized. The way to set yourself apart from your peers is to continue to grow as a leader and present yourself as a steward of the profession,” Dossantos explained. “In order for me to succeed, I was going to have to go above and beyond the minimum required military education benchmarks and stand out to be considered for key assignments.”
While working for the New Jersey Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Command, he learned about Thomas Edison State University from his supervisor, who had recently received his Master of Science in Management degree from the University.
“My boss stressed the importance of education not only for self-development,but also as a tool for professional development. I was looking to accomplish both of those things, so I did a bit of research on the TESU website,” Dossantos recalled. “I realized the online learning model would be the perfect means to accomplish my educational and professional goals. It opened the door for the opportunity for me to distinguish myself.”
Since then, he has earned several degrees from TESU, most recently earning his Master of Science in Homeland Security in 2019. He also was inducted into the Sword and Shield National Honor Society, which is dedicated to the disciplines of homeland security, intelligence, emergency management and protective security.
Through the distance learning model at TESU, Dossantos was able to accomplish all of this without missing a moment of his career, though it wasn’t always easy.
“The University provides the means for people like me to complete their education without detracting from their profession,” Dossantos said. “There is no ‘close of business’ time in the military. In my situation, my career is demanding and requires countless hours of training, traveling, planning and even deployments. I specifically remember being in Afghanistan writing a discussion forum reply for a class and being interrupted by an alarm, indicating that rockets were being fired into our base camp.”
That discussion forum post was one of many as he worked toward completing his three graduate degrees. Despite the hardships, Dossantos says he hopes his story of working on his education from remote areas of the world inspires others to accomplish their educational goals, because he has seen the rewards firsthand.
“Studying at TESU opened doors to new assignments and diversified my knowledge base throughout the years. My degrees have directly affected and improved my performance as a major in the New Jersey Army National Guard. My degrees have also given me the credibility and marketability for positions of greater responsibility,” Dossantos explained. “I lead by example and, in order to be an effective leader, I have to walk the walk and talk the talk. Having quantifiable experience and a devotion to lifelong learning does just that.”
Now, Dossantos works as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Plans officer at the Homeland Security Center for Excellence located in Lawrenceville, N.J., where he is putting his most recent academic achievement, his MS in Homeland Security, into practice.
“This degree is special because it directly aligns with my profession. Homeland security and homeland defense are functions I am not only interested in, but also work toward advancing every day that I put on my uniform. Homeland security is a dynamic field that requires advanced problem-solving and critical thinking skills to be successful. This degree coupled academics with my professional knowledge and, because of this, I was able to grow and be more effective in both aspects,” Dossantos said.
He plans to continue studying and earn his doctorate in the near future. He hopes his story encourages other veterans, military and civilian adult learners to reach their educational goals, no matter their circumstances.
There are two people in particular that Dossantos wants to inspire: his daughters, 5-year-old Lia, and Sydney, who was born in July. He says almost all of his spare time is dedicated to raising them with his wife, Lacy, at their home in South Bound Brook, N.J.
“I want to teach them that hard work and drive will take them anywhere they want to go. My education has helped me set the bar high and provided me with the tools necessary for success. I want to be a good example for them,” he said. “I hope to instill in them that discipline, hard work and self-improvement doesn’t stop after you graduate. Lifelong learning is a continuous process that can open up infinite possibilities.”
For more information about the John S. Watson School of Public Services, visit tesu.edu/watson.