In the late 1980s, Donna Rush was a traditional college student, having fun and enjoying campus life at The University of Alabama. But the fall of her junior year, tragically, she was assaulted. The trauma of this event forced her to withdraw from classes at UA and move home.
“It took away something from me and left a huge hole in me that I didn’t finish. And I rambled from thing to thing for a few years until I found the Navy, and that gave me the direction and structure I needed,” she said. Donna has served her country with the Navy on multiple deployments and through 10 years of active duty service and another five in reserve. She has spent time in Germany, running the medical evacuation flights between Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany. She is currently a chief petty officer, hospital corpsman chief and senior enlisted leader of the Operational Health Support Unit of the Pensacola Naval Hospital detachment. While her Navy career was not always her plan, she says it’s what gave her the strength to return to her original path and finish what she started.
“Dropping out from UA was always a huge regret for me. It was always on my mind,” Donna said. “I had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from other schools, but neither of them meant anything to me because I always wanted to go back to Alabama and finish.”
After finishing her master’s degree, Donna realized she had enough left from the Post-9/11 GI Bill to finally graduate from UA. She lives in Pensacola, Florida, but she found Bama By Distance and realized she could earn her Bachelor of Science in Human Environmental Sciences completely online. In June 2018, she began her coursework.
Donna was able to transfer many of her former UA credits toward the degree, but she ran into trouble with her prior academic performance, particularly the semester when she had withdrawn. Her faculty adviser, Darryl Thornton, helped her navigate that difficulty.
“He helped me declare academic bankruptcy for that semester. He was awesome – always helped me know what I needed to do to graduate. I got lucky to have him as my adviser,” she said. She also found Dr. Jennifer Humber to be a positive impact in her journey. “Without the two of them, it would’ve been a long, long road.”
During her time in the program, Donna balanced her classes along with a full-time job and monthly Navy Reserve duty. And her last semester (Spring 2020), she was even deployed on the USNS Comfort to New York City for coronavirus support. “Our computers on the ship were classified, so I couldn’t do any assignments while I was onboard. My professors were kind enough to work with me and let me turn my assignments in when I got back.” She credits Mr. Thornton and Dr. Humber for helping her put a hold on her coursework so she could finish and graduate in May.
Donna and her family traveled to Tuscaloosa during the summer for a delayed and socially distanced graduation. “My mom and dad, brother and sister-in-law all came to see me graduate. Seeing how proud they were of me for finishing what I started all those years ago – it’s emotion I can’t really describe.”
“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. I’ve always thought of UA as a very special school. People don’t realize how special it is unless they’ve attended, but I have and I do. To be able to say I graduated from The University of Alabama fills me with an incredible pride.”
Published: November 3rd, 2020