Welcome Ronni!

Welcome Ronni to the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences!

Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife online MNR student, Ronnie Rudolphi, tells us about her journey back to higher education as a military spouse. She also shows how the flexibility offered by Auburn’s online graduate programs is equipping her for a future career in resource management, while allowing her and her spouse to raise their family. 

Working Toward a Master’s Degree as a Military Spouse

I married in the summer of 2002, one semester before graduating with a Bachelor’s, and quickly learned after graduation that it would be nearly impossible to move around the world with my husband and follow my dreams to become a veterinarian.  My life became focused on family, with four children to attest to that.  I know a number of military spouses who work while being parents and who attend school while being parents, but I wasn’t quite ready to make that jump until all of my kids were in school full time. 

Ronni at Thurston Peak in the Wasatch Mountain Range, UT.

It’s very easy to list off the difficulties of becoming educated all over again as a military spouse with the goal of beginning a career in my late 30’s.  Lack of confidence was and still is number one, I would say.  In my case, being away from academics for over 15 years made school, especially master’s courses, very scary.  Having dedicated my time to family life and my husband’s career, it was difficult to turn the gears in my brain again, to create a new trajectory, and to start being a little selfish with my time.  

“Hearing that Ronni was intimidated by coming back to the classroom was surprising to me,” said Dr. Kelly Dunning, Ronni’s major professor on her MNR program, who continued: “Several of her professors stopped me in the hallway to tell me how amazing of a student she was! I had multiple conversations with multiple professors about how spectacular she was in (both in class discussions and assignments). What this says to me is that military spouses may have what is known as “imposter syndrome,” or a mistaken view that they do not belong in the classroom. Nothing can be further from the truth, and Ronni is a shining example of this. The MNR at Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife, in my view, is a way to do away with this idea of imposter syndrome for students of all backgrounds, identities, life stages, and so on.”  

Ronnie continues: It’s also important that I make note of my changing interests.  I knew that I was no longer interested in veterinary medicine or animal science, so I was, on top of it all, shifting to a whole new field in which I knew very little.  That is why I took two undergraduate level online courses prior to enrolling in a master’s program, to ensure that I was committed.  Overcoming my fears by being present in class and pushing through in that first semester made me a stronger person today. 

Time management can also be a difficulty, and with children, it is key.  A bit of advice on this subject would be to not feel pressured to speed through a program.  The summer after my first year, we moved for the 10th time, and I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable attempting classes while moving a whole family plus three pets across the US.  Temporary duties (TDYs) and deployments would also cause me to consider lessening my course numbers to one or two or even a complete break, if need be.  And of course, setting aside a specific time during the day for schoolwork is always a great idea.  

Relationships without children can experience some challenges with time management, as well.  If your spouse is used to you having time for certain events or quality time together, etc., and you’re now using that time for school, some tension may arise.  I have definitely learned that discussing expectations clearly and openly early on is very important. 

A final difficulty in all aspects of military life is being prepared for sudden change.  This includes new assignments and moving and/or deployments.  New assignments, especially, can create havoc for a military spouse and their plan of study, particularly when the spouse’s plan requires in-person courses, labs, or research.  Fortunately for me, I was very aware that we would only be living in Auburn for a year and immediately took advantage of the new MNR non-thesis program offered by the School of Forestry and Wildlife.  It enabled me to continue my studies online after moving.  Once again, communication and addressing possible future events is crucial so that if these sudden changes do occur, both the military member and spouse are aware of the options.  

Ronni and family after Ben’s final flight in the A10 at Nellis Air Force Base, NV before their move to Auburn in 2019.

Now I’d like to bring some happy thoughts to this blog.  Being a military spouse can give you great opportunities.  It is becoming more and more understood that we are sacrificing along with our partners and has thus garnered more respect from employers and other influential professionals.  Moving/traveling can be a disadvantage while in school, but it can also be enlightening.  Learning about different places and meeting different people can give a student new perspectives and ideas, which when combined with academics, can add so much to the overall experience.  Military life, with or without children, can also help keep a student grounded and not completely absorbed with classes.  Additionally, there are ways to get financial help as a military spouse, and there are even family advocacy groups, which provide support at military installations.  

One last thought more so involves the benefits of school while being a military spouse and may be the most important aspect for some spouses as it was for me.  It’s that working toward a career or an academic goal can give a military spouse their own purpose and identity.  Oftentimes spouses may feel that their military partner’s work overshadows their own interests and ambitions, and so it is very important that we spouses are able to live our own lives and have a sense of self that is separate from our partner’s commitment to the military.  

Ronni’s original home sweet home, where her parents still live, on the bayous of South Mississippi.

I feel very lucky to be a military spouse and would love to chat more about my experiences and lessons learned with anyone who is interested.  Feel free to contact me at: ronniandpals@gmail.com or vzr0012@auburn.edu