Online Student Success Stories: Part 1

Fire Chief Mark Sealy smiles into the camera.
Category: Success Stories

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

Choosing where to go to college can be one of the most important decisions we’ll make in our lives. For many of us, that means researching degree programs, tuition rates and many other factors. While these are important to consider, oftentimes hearing someone’s success story is exactly what we need to picture our own.

For more than 25 years, thousands of students have made the decision to invest their time and money by pursuing an education with Columbia Southern University. They decided an online degree would be worth it, they did their research to find the right online school, and now, they’re enjoying successful careers thanks to the skills and knowledge they gained while attending CSU.

Here in Part 1 of this series of online degree success stories, we provide links to some of our favorite examples of fire professionals and other public servants who decided to attend CSU. If you’d like to skip ahead to Part 2 or Part 3, follow the links below.

Fire Professionals

Former marine Mark Sealy graduated from CSU with a bachelor’s degree in fire administration in 2010. Now, as the city fire chief for the Mobile (Alabama) Fire-Rescue Department, Sealy oversees 19 fire stations and nearly 500 staff members.

“Working as a firefighter, working a construction job on my days off, coaching, raising a family with my wife and maintaining a home kept me busy, and going to school was the last thing I needed on my plate,” he said. “But Columbia Southern University made that possible. I just paced myself, did it in the time allowed. It was not easy, but it was very doable.”

Read More: Fire Chief Embraces Role as Protector

Many CSU fire science graduates advance into leadership positions, including Lieutenant Nina Taylor of the Birmingham (Alabama) Fire & Rescue Service Department. In a male-dominated profession, Taylor trains fellow firefighters and also serves as fire science academy instructor. In addition to being a mother, fire officer and teacher, Taylor also runs a photography business.

“As a working mother that also is active in my community, I needed a fit that allowed maneuvering around my busy schedule,” she said. “Columbia Southern University provided that opportunity.”

Read More: Helmet Is One of Many Hats for Nina Taylor: Mother, Fire Officer, Teacher and Businesswoman

A fire captain with a formal education can help save departments – and taxpayers – large sums. Vincent Harris, a graduate with multiple degrees from CSU, earned a $3.7 million grant for Henry County Fire Department in Georgia. His work led to his county hiring 27 additional firefighters and medics.

“My education has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone,” he said. “The first grant I ever wrote was awarded and accepted. You get a really good feeling knowing that through hard work, we were able to give 27 more firefighters the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Read More: Fire Captain Vincent Harris Awarded $3.7 Million Federal Grant for Henry County Fire Department

Daryl Hogan, a first sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, authored “It’s More Than a Job: Life and Leadership Through the Eyes of a First Sergeant” in 2017. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Hogan credits CSU as a military-friendly school with high-quality instruction.

“CSU provided the flexibility, curriculum and resources that allowed me to better manage my personal and professional lives while also gaining invaluable knowledge in the area of fire science that helped me to truly excel as an instructor,” he said. “My CSU education proved to be invaluable to my professional career and provided a foundation that has allowed me to thrive as a senior enlisted leader in the Air Force.”

Read More: Knight Pens Book on Military Leadership

Public Servants

Firefighters are courageous in serving the public, but there are many kinds of first responders. Robert Jackson, a CSU graduate and former firefighter, now works as a firefighter EMT and hazmat technician at Ft. Rucker Fire and Emergency Services in Alabama. He was recently named the Emergency Services Gold Medal Award for Outstanding Firefighter of the Year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Alabama.

“What led me to CSU is that the programs were designed for first responders and their busy schedules. The faculty always encouraged and motivated me to improve my knowledge,” he said. “I have tried to pursue degrees at other colleges but none of them compare to CSU. The faculty and staff at CSU strive to help you achieve your goals. They encourage and motivate you to reach beyond what you know to grasp that greater knowledge of your profession.”

Read More: Fire Chief and Alumnus Robert Jackson Awarded VFW Gold Medal

Daniel Tyk is an EMS manager, lieutenant, and community and public relations officer for North Shore Fire Rescue in Wisconsin, a CSU Learning Partner. Through his degree program in emergency medical services administration, he gained knowledge that directly applied to his career.

“In a world where technology and information is ever-changing, I believe continued education is essential to professional and personal growth and success,” he explained. “The personal gratification I have from learning how to be a better manager and leader also bears great reward.”

Read More: Daniel Tyk Enjoys a Good Challenge

Many Americans felt called to serve their communities after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. For Neil Fetner, he decided to start a career in law enforcement. He quickly learned that in order to advance in his profession and land the job he wanted, he would need a degree. Fetner attended CSU and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration, and he is now the captain of the Clanton Police Department in Alabama.

“The flexibility of CSU's schedule and the cost of tuition was a very important factor when I decided to go back to school,” he said. “I was also very surprised that I got a lot of classroom credit for real world experience. The credit that I received for real world work experience helped knock out some of the lower level courses that my degree required.”

Read More: Student Stories: Neil Fetner

Public service extends beyond first responders. Working for a government organization can be a fulfilling career, and that’s what CSU graduate Brent Jennings decided to pursue. Jennings earned a master of public administration, and he now serves as a government tax auditor for the City of Scottsdale, Arizona.

“CSU allowed me to work my job and fit the outside hours into a rigorous study regimen that allowed me to reach my goal of graduating in one year,” said Jennings. “My academic advisor was awesome and went way above and beyond to answer my questions and keep the ball rolling without any disruptions or delays.”

Read More: Alumni Stories: Brent Jennings

Continue Reading

Part 2 of this series highlights notable alumni who are now enjoying successful careers as safety professionals and business leaders.

Online Student Success Stories: Part 2

To learn more about how you can join this extraordinary group of alumni, visit

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