Arizona Online Student Nathan Madak

Why Not All Military-Focused Online Degree Programs are the Same

Nathan Madak is a US Navy Veteran & student in Arizona Online's Cyber Operations program. Learn about his experience & why he thinks not all military-focused online degree programs are the same.

My name is Nathan Madak, and I am a US Navy Veteran. I knew I always wanted to serve and protect my country, so joining the service was the most effective way to do that. It also presented a challenge and that drew me to join the military, both the Navy and the Army. I enrolled in the University of Arizona Online's Cyber Operations program because I read about its designation by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (CAE-CO). I knew it had to be worth investigating if the NSA would give this program such a prestigious designation. 

For me, Cybersecurity was a no-brainer. As someone with an analytical background in intelligence and the relevancy of cyber on the world’s stage, the program really stood out to me. The work I do in this program is my chance to continue serving my country whether it’s working in government or corporate America. The government, military, law firms, and medical organizations collect, process, and store unprecedented amounts of data on computers and other devices. It is up to individuals like me to safeguard that data and ensure our government and agencies exchange intelligence and knowledge to improve our security.

The program is challenging at times but extremely rewarding. For me, when I think of a challenge, I think of coding. The reward comes when I finish a project and I can see it immediately. My hard work pays off right in front of my eyes. It’s a great way to see problem-solving in action. If I get stuck, I can reach out to the instructor directly and expect a timely and thoughtful response. I had one specifically challenging class. When I reached out to the professor with a problem, he not only answered my question but recorded a video of himself working through the problem, using the application and doing the debugging. He then shared the video with the entire class. This video not only helped me but the rest of my classmates.

While I enjoy the coding aspect of the program, my favorite class so far has been the Digital Forensics course. It makes you feel like a digital detective. Whether it’s analyzing hard drives or pulling out data from photos, it’s all very exciting because you’re really diving into details and putting together the pieces of a puzzle. What you uncover can be vital to an investigation. The skills you learn in the Cybersecurity program are invaluable to any security professional.

Nathan Madak pictured center with two other Navy vets
Nathan Madak in Uniform

Attending the University of Arizona Online wasn't my first experience with online programs. I have attended a handful of online and in-person programs. I’ve even attended some geared explicitly towards service members and Veterans. But Arizona Online is different. I feel like I get a very personalized experience. I interact with my professors and have one-on-one meetings with them, which makes a big difference when approaching course challenges. My advisor is available to me when I need him and has helped me gather and work through all the credits I had from previous institutions to make the transfer process as smooth as possible. Some of my military experience was counted as credit towards my degree! With the help of my advisor, I was able to extend my tuition assistance when I transitioned from Active Duty to being a Veteran and take advantage of programs such as the Edith Nourse Rogers Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Scholarship. The program's flexibility was an enormous advantage when I was active in the military and now as a full-time civilian employee. Classes are asynchronous, so I can attend my classes when they fit into my schedule, and the ability to pause and rewind a lecture has been critical to my progress in the program. 

Arizona Online's programs might not be the fastest to complete due to the challenging yet rewarding coursework I was describing, but I will gladly sacrifice expediency to get more engagement from my professors and teacher's assistants to better work through and grasp learning concepts. In my opinion, the military-focused programs I enrolled in didn't have a lot of interaction, but with Arizona Online, I feel supported every step of the way. I think this sets me up for success in my current role as a crime analyst for the city of Detroit and my future career endeavors.

Whether it's a personal goal or a career requirement, earning a degree is a critical learning experience that will prepare you for your future inside the military or out. My background in the service and a bachelor's degree in Cybersecurity will give me a competitive edge in my industry. I believe that higher education can provide numerous opportunities for all military personnel. I encourage you to work with your advisor to discover education and funding opportunities you might not know about. You won't regret it!