Student Spotlight

Brandman A.A. degree: A stepping stone for your future

October 19, 2018 by Brandman University
Gibson and Castro
Isai Castro (right) accepts his A.A. Degree in General Studies from Associate Professor William Gibson, Ph.D., who presented diplomas at the Whidbey Island N.A.S. commencement in May.                     

Isai Castro had taken a few college courses – one a year but maybe not every year. A Navy mechanic stationed at Whidbey Island Air Naval Station, Castro wasn’t thinking about getting a degree, any degree, when he happened upon Brandman University’s on-base campus.

When academic advisor Carlos Adamo showed him what it would take to get an associate degree, “It seemed something achievable,” Castro said.

He earned his associate degree in general education in August 2017, right before being deployed. Now he’s set another goal: earning a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership.

Why does Brandman have an associate degree?

The vast majority of students at Brandman University arrive with upper-level status, a junior or even a senior at a traditional university.

But from the university’s beginning at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, there’s been a need for the associate degree.
“Earning that first degree was a way to earn a pay raise,” said Melanie Borrego, the associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of English.

The associate degree is still an excellent first step, showing employers someone has an interest in education. Borrego revised Brandman’s program, which was based on Chapman University’s 100-level courses, to include additional electives.

Once Castro realized that he could take courses both online and at Whidbey Island, he knew he could complete his coursework even if deployed. Signing up for the degree program gave him a goal. “My wife pushed me the most,” he added.

“I realized I could do more than one class a year,” he said.

At some community colleges, often the first choice for associate degree seekers, that choice might be out of the students’ control.

“At a lot of community colleges, you can’t get the classes when you need them. It’s also easy to get lost. We have a high-touch culture. We do a good job of not letting that happen,” said Borrego, who previously worked at the community college level. One of the first things she noticed when she began teaching at Brandman’s San Diego campus was how academic advisors knew who might need extra encouragement to complete courses and the degree.

“Support is especially important if you don’t have a lot of college experience,” she said. “It’s a culture that is difficult to get anywhere else. At Brandman, you’re sure to get good advice.”

Seamless transition

While the coordination between community colleges and other universities such as Brandman is continually improving thanks to transfer admission guarantees, not all community college courses transfer.

“Students in the Brandman program know that all their credits will count (toward a bachelor’s degree),” Borrego said. Completing that first degree also influences other decisions.

“It became a stepping stone to a bachelor’s,” Castro said. It also broadened his view of the world, thanks to some of his favorite courses. “I didn’t know about other religions. It was nice to learn and to see different perspectives.”

He also tackled mathematics, a course that had challenged him in the past. “They were able to get me up to par, which was nice.”

Unlike the university’s bachelor’s degree programs, it isn’t necessary to have 12 units of credit to start the associate degree. There is a second option called the Brandman Track, but the associate degree program offers another benefit.

“I wasn’t able to go to my high school graduation. So, getting my associate and actually attending graduation was kind of cool,” said Castro, who earned his degree in August 2017, was immediately deployed and finally got to experience graduation in May 2018 at Whidbey Island.

“It’s an awesome program, and I find myself telling people about it and recommending it.”

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