John Parsons, Excelsior College Class of ‘89 graduate and a staff sergeant in the Air Force, thought he would never attain a college degree. After learning about Excelsior College, Parsons was able to use transfer credits and approved Air Force military training to get closer to his personal goal. Parsons’ unconventional educational journey led him to a 21 year teaching career.
John Parsons was raised in Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania. He felt earning a college degree was essential; even if he was unsure a formal education would be possible for him.
“Both of my parents stressed education as the way to better ourselves and to have more than they had,” said Parsons. “My folks grew up during the Depression on farms in rural central Pennsylvania. My mother graduated from high school, but my father, as the oldest boy in his family, had to leave school at the end of the eighth grade to work on the family farm.”
With financing a challenge, Parsons knew his educational journey would be less than conventional. After enlisting in the Air Force in1978, Parsons served in security police for four years and was stationed at Pease, Air Force Base in Portsmouth, NH. He eventually left in 1982 to become a reporter for a small town weekly newspaper in Maine.
The call to serve grew louder though, and in 1985 Parsons returned to service to retrain into Avionics Maintenance for B-52 Bombers and stationed at Wurthsmith Air Force Base in upstate Michigan.While he considered making a career out of the Air Force, he also wanted to take advantage of college Tuition Assistance offered through the GI Bill to secure his future.
After several years of working on aircraft, Parsons leapt at the opportunity to become his unit’s historian, a position that would allow him to make better use of his writing skills and experience. As an Air Force historian, Parsons’ primary job was to produce a 100 to 125 page quarterly report on the unit’s operations, maintenance, and other events.This was backed by about a half dozen volumes of supporting documents. After the report and documents were reviewed by higher headquarters, the information became part of the Air Force historical archives.
Parsons also had the opportunity to teach two classes on Air Force and aviation history. It was the joy that he felt in classroom that would eventually have a profound impact on the rest of his career. But Parsons still lacked the educational credentials.
“While I was working on a report, a good friend stopped by my office and asked me why I wasn’t going back to college since I was basically doing a master’s thesis every three months,” recalled Parsons. “He told me about Excelsior College and how I could apply credits received through Air Force schools, civilian sources, and even DANTES and CLEP tests. Suddenly a college degree went from being a distant dream, to being possible.
“Prior to Excelsior College I had taken a few classes in journalism before coming into the Air Force, some general classes through the University of New Hampshire, and a couple of courses through Saginaw Valley State College in Michigan. So I spoke to a college counselor who laid out a plan and the seemingly impossible, became possible.” In 1989, Parsons earned a Bachelor of Science degree.
At the end of his enlistment, Parsons qualified for a Vocational Rehabilitation program through
the Veterans Administration (because of a service-connected injury) which allowed him to return to college to earn a master’s degree. He then moved into a classroom setting as a teacher.
“My older sister, Judy, a teacher (now retired) was a great role model,” said Parsons “I think I wanted to teach because my somewhat unconventional journey to a college degree and the life experience gained along the way. I felt like I had something important to share with young people. Essentially the message I always got from my mom and dad was education is the route to the life you want to live.”
Parsons’ father lived to see his older sister graduate from college and thought his father would burst from happiness. Unfortunately, both of his parents passed away before Parsons got his degrees. However, he feels those diplomas belong as much to his parents, as to himself.
For the past 21 years Parsons has been a teacher. He currently teaches English electives for seniors, English 10, and two sections of Global History 9. “My experiences prior to becoming a teacher gives me a unique perspective and allows me to bring those experiences into the classroom. The students just think it gives me a lot of stories to tell.”
Today, Parsons resides with wife in Lansingburgh, NY. Outside of teaching Parsons’ hobbies include running and coaching track and cross country. He is also a musician, performs solo, sings, and plays guitar, bass, harmonica, in a local band called, The Reverberators.
From Air Force to the workforce, Parsons’ unconventional journey earned him college degrees. However, his quest continues in educating others along their routes in life.