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When the wheels aren’t turning, some truckers are earning college degrees

By on January 1, 2016

When you think of spring break, you might imagine warm sunshine, sandy beaches and beautiful palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze. Marshall Martin, a college graduate who earned three degrees over an eight-year period, spent much of his vacation in hotel parking lots, hunched over a laptop in the cab of his truck.

Along with taking several online classes each semester, Martin was visiting some of the country’s less glamorous locales as a full-time truck driver. After arriving at each destination, he grabbed a bite to eat, had a little sleep, and then began reading chapters and writing research papers.

Now an owner-operator with Celadon Trucking, Martin marvels at all the late nights he spent chasing school deadlines.

“It was an opportunity to do something besides just sit there. You have to make it fun, and it can be,” he says. “Pursuing an education is very rewarding.”

Online programs have allowed drivers to achieve degrees or certificates without setting foot inside a classroom. These programs provide an important opportunity for drivers to expand their minds and broaden their horizons.

Staying the course

Martin joined the trucking industry in 2003 after two separate jobs with the United States Army. He worked in a civilian position that led him to learn how to speak and read German.

Soon after becoming a truck driver, Martin realized that he had a lot of downtime at truck stops and loading docks. He decided to further his quest for knowledge by enrolling in the online degree program at American InterContinental University, where he completed an associate’s degree in business administration. Martin went on to receive a bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public administration from Ashford University.

Becoming a truck driver doesn’t require a college degree — but Martin says that higher education had tangible benefits for his career. His accounting and math classes helped him adjust more quickly to new developments in technology, including the adoption of electronic logbooks.

“For me, pursuing further education meant being well-informed and being prepared on the road,” he says. “One may look at the degrees I hold and ask what they have to do with the trucking industry, but I had to take many classes that have made me a far better driver than I was when I first started.”

“This is a job I believe no one can ever master,” he continues. “There are always new challenges and many different advancements that you have to get used to.”

Martin found that pursuing an education helped him better understand the social aspects of the job as well.

“The foundation of this industry is people,” he says. “My business administration degree taught me how to start and run a business, while my other degrees deal with the human aspects of the industry, like psychology, sociology, human nature — and even history. It’s helped me to understand people and that in turn makes interactions more pleasant.”

Going by the book

Given their complex schedules and the unique demands of the job, truck drivers may just be the ideal candidates for online classes.

“One of the great pluses of learning online is that all you need is an Internet connection to access your classroom and the school library and to submit your assignments,” says Fred Widdowson, Senior Admissions Representative for American Military University.

“With the growing use of eBooks that can be accessed from your mobile device, and with Wi-Fi available in more and more places, going to school online has never been easier to do. It can be the best option for busy people.”

Martin enjoyed the convenience of taking classes this way, since it fit his nomadic lifestyle. All he needed to succeed was a strong work ethic.

“The biggest thing I hear from drivers is they don’t have enough time. That’s just not true,” he says. “You just have to learn how to create schedules and expectations for yourself, which most drivers should be able to do. To be good at this, you have to be passionate.”

Open for discussion

Student-&-Driver2Having an education can also help drivers build a more meaningful life, says Albert Dionne, a driver with Combined Transport in Medford, Oregon. He’s currently pursuing an online degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.

Despite the obvious challenges of studying on the road, he saw education as a way to grow personally and professionally. He says there is nothing he loves more than being a truck driver, but he wants a degree so he can have a greater variety of choices for his future.

“Being in school has really built up my confidence,” he says. “A lot of it is just having the discipline to get your schoolwork done on time. You have to be willing to sacrifice your hobbies out on the road, like TV or video games.”

Dionne made the decision to return to school after he saw advertisements promoting the university’s online programs. He completed a Free Application for Student AID (FAFSA) and qualified for a number of student loans and grants. That made his decision to pursue a degree much easier.

Technology has become a great equalizer in the field of education. He uses a tablet to download textbooks and accesses Wi-Fi at truck stops across the country.

The online format also allows him to feel more comfortable corresponding with his professors and fellow classmates.

“In our classes we’ll have weekly forums where we can comment and have online conversations,” he says. “Since we’re all from different places, we each bring a different perspective to the online classroom. I’ve been able to share my experiences with them about being on the road.”

The next chapter

A degree gives drivers more flexibility to move into different jobs within their company, in management or back office operations. It also opens the door in related fields. Dionne expects to receive his diploma in the summer of 2018 and looks ahead to new challenges upon graduation.

“I drive flatbeds for a living. I’m under no illusion that I can do this all my life,” he says. “A college degree gives truck drivers and people in other careers more options.”

Martin believes in the value of education in and of itself, and wants his fellow drivers to know about the vast array of learning opportunities available to them.

“My ultimate goal is to educate people — from CEOs to truck drivers to civilians — about bettering yourself through education,” he says. “I realized at a young age that this is a big world. People have a lot of different opinions and personalities. It’s really fascinating to learn about other people and their experiences.”

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