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JBLM spouses receive honors in degrees

Northwest Guardian

Published: 04:46PM June 12th, 2014

Two Joint Base Lewis-McChord residents are on very different academic paths, but they share an ambition to work on inspiring projects and recently, they were recognized accordingly.

Saint Martin’s University recognized Alicia Conway, a veteran and Army spouse who recently graduated with a B.S. in biology, and Sarah McKinney, also an Army spouse and a student in the Master in Teaching program. The university presented the awards April 29 during its annual Student Scholars Day and Honors Convocation ceremony.

Both McKinney and Conway received certificates after presenting projects during Scholars Day. Moreover, McKinney received the Cady Inspirational Leadership Award, given to students who have demonstrated uncommon leadership and shown potential as inspirational educators.

McKinney said she couldn’t wait to start inspiring others as a middle school teacher.

“Even though they’re young, to see the power of kids and what they’re capable of is amazing,” McKinney said.

But she’ll have to wait to inspire students until after she finishes her thesis this year on the use of social media, like Twitter, as a powerful personal development and teaching tool.

McKinney attends Saint Martin’s campus on JBLM, which holds classes at the Stone Education Center, and said this is where she met her mentor, who helped springboard her project.

McKinney and Mary Snyder, program manager at the educa-tion center, worked closely to put together 30-day challenges for teachers to use social media platforms, to connect, to make sense of community and to better themselves, McKinney said.

“We developed some new and innovative projects that we took out in the community,” Sni-der said. “Her award is really a great characterization of her work, and it shows evidence of the kind of future leader she’s going to be.”

McKinney has since expanded the initial concept into several projects, and she is still working to create more. She launches one this summer at Tacoma Community College.

“I feel really, really honored and appreciative of the education department,” McKinney said. “It’s been a wonderful experience working with the teachers and students. I’m taking away a lot of strong relationships and hope to stay in touch.”

Although Conway is not look-ing to be a teacher like McKinney, she seeks to help her community with her work and give people knowledge about their environment.

“I’m excited to do bigger and better things and give back to the community,” Conway said. “To even be selected for Scholars Day as a presenter was an honor, so to be presented the certificate as well — it meant a lot.”

Conway, like McKinney, is no stranger to military moves; she was in the Army National Guard in three states and ended up in Washington after her husband got orders. Because of the great programs in the area, she was excited to get back to school.

For her project, she researched how arsenic concentrations in local lakes, caused primarily by pollution from a Tacoma copper smelting plant, affect macro-invertebrate populations.

She discovered the more polluted the water, the less diverse the populations were. She said Steilacoom Lake was the most polluted out of the four lakes she tested.

Although she is now a graduate at St. Martin’s, she plans to stay in school and attend a physicians assistant program on the East Coast next year; while her husband is stationed in Virginia for training. She wants to continue to focus on the environment and medical advancement.

Even after numerous moves, both Conway and McKinney manage to put their education first and complete rigorous coursework.

Although she knows it can be hard, Conway said she encourages other spouses and veterans to get back in school, saying that universities offer a lot of support.

“Saint Martin’s University has a veteran’s club, and is 100 perce-nt friendly to veterans and spouses,” McKinney said. “For anyone intimidated about going back to school — don’t be. They will help you all the way until graduation.”