Finishing Strong: 2014 Graduate Zak Hart

For active military student Zak Hart, a Bachelor of Liberal Studies at Armstrong is more than just a degree. It's a key to a brighter future.

This former mechanic in the 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield decided to apply for the competitive Green to Gold Program, which allows enlisted military members to earn a college degree and advance to officer training in the U.S. Army upon graduation.

Hart had already served eight years in the military and had two years of community college under his belt when he applied for the Green to Gold Active Duty Option Program. This two-year track provides eligible, active duty enlisted soldiers with an opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree and earn a commission as an Army officer, advancing their military careers.

The day before Hart walks across the stage at the Savannah Civic Center at spring commencement, he will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. He officially starts officer training at Fort Benning, Georgia, on June 15 and will ultimately be stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

An active ROTC student at Armstrong, this soft-spoken Alabama native has been a proud member of the student detachment out of Fort Jackson in South Carolina for the past two years. Although Hart sometimes had to miss class to train with ROTC students from across the region, he says his professors were extremely understanding.

The son of a Navy veteran, Hart considered the military to be a path to a better future. After completing two years of community college, he was working minimum wage jobs in Alabama before he enlisted in the Army. “I realized I needed to get out of town and make a change,” he says. “The military was definitely the right choice.”

This 31-year-old military student has served four deployments in Iraq and four in Afghanistan, bringing a unique perspective to the classroom. He says he's glad he attended Armstrong, a university he describes as “just the right size,” and has particularly enjoyed taking classes like History of Liberal Arts, which gave him a new perspective on society, philosophy, and the world at large.

“I would definitely recommend Armstrong to other active military students,” he says. “It's small enough that you don't feel alienated, and you can really get to know your professors.”

He especially appreciated ongoing support from Armstrong's Military and Veteran Affairs office. “Everyone in the VA office has been extremely helpful,” he says. “It was an easy process to get my GI paperwork started and to get my allowance for books. Armstrong is definitely a supportive environment for veterans and active duty military.”

When Hart graduates on May 10, his parents will attend the ceremony at the Savannah Civic Center, along with the rising officer's wife Janet and their six-year-old son Brooks. Even though he will be one of more than 700 students walking across the stage at Spring Commencement, this hard-working military student doesn't plan to get lost in the crowd.

“After graduation, I'll get to be an officer and a leader in a different capacity,” he says with a smile. “It's all going to be brand new. The future is very exciting.”