Online Learning Lets Service Members Continue Their Progress Towards Educational Goals – Even While Deployed

Posted: May 20, 2024

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

ST. PAUL, Minn., May 20, 2024 – Members of the Minnesota National Guard are taking advantage of the many ways that the colleges and universities of Minnesota State are helping them achieve their educational goals – even while deployed. Among these are a broad range of options for online education that allow students to complete coursework around a busy schedule – even the full schedule that comes with being a deployed soldier.

Scott Olson, Chancellor of Minnesota State, said, “The colleges and universities of Minnesota State are proud of the many opportunities we offer to service members and veterans, and we are pleased to reward their service and their tenacity by supporting them as they continue making progress towards their educational goals.”

For example, Specialist Franks Ondara has been a member of the Minnesota National Guard for 5 years and recently returned from a one-year deployment during which he completed more than 25 credits through Minneapolis College and Century College.

“Being able to complete these credits while deployed has helped me move closer to my goal of completing programs in computer forensics and human services,” said Ondara.

He came to the United States from his home in Nairobi, Kenya after winning an immigration lottery, and joined the military shortly after arriving. Prior to being deployed, he was a student at Minneapolis College working towards his degrees.

“Serving in the Guard while I study has been like a Godsend,” Ondara said. “This is the greatest opportunity for anyone who wants to pursue an education in this country. It was very hard work and long hours, but it worked well because my instructors and the leaders of my unit knew what I was doing and were flexible with me.”

Today, Ondara has returned from deployment and is taking nine credits while driving for Uber. “In some ways, taking classes while deployed is easier than taking classes at home,” Ondara said. “While deployed, you have only one mission, and in your off time, you can focus on your education and there are many people to support you.”

Ondara is also positive about his experience with the Guard. “I would encourage anyone to join the Minnesota National Guard,” Ondara said. “It is a family where people are there for you. The National Guard is the best way to go.”


Specialist Zoe Rickheim is another excellent example. During her deployment, Rickheim completed 39 credits across three semesters towards a bachelor’s degree in Business Management with an emphasis in Human Resources and a minor in Spanish through Minnesota State University, Mankato. “The credits I earned while deployed covered basically all of my general education requirements,” said Rickheim, “so when I returned, I could start taking upper division courses from the College of Business right away.”

Initially, Rickheim was concerned about taking online courses while deployed. “I didn’t know whether I could be successful taking courses online, but I let my instructors know that I was on deployment, and they were very supportive.”

Having returned from deployment, she is back to a full schedule of courses at MSU, Mankato,  working to complete her degree, and is staying active with campus life, including joining Chamber Choir and Concert Choir. While she appreciates the flexibility that comes with online education, Rickheim prefers in-person classes. “With in-person classes, you get opportunities for face-to-face experience with instructors and other students, and I really like that.”


The colleges and universities of Minnesota State serve more than 6,500 veterans and service members and provide a variety of services and resources to help them with their transition to college. Some of the many other opportunities Minnesota State offers veterans and service members include waiving application fees for active-duty service members. Minnesota State offers in-state tuition rates for veterans, spouses, and dependent children. Through Credit for Prior Learning, veterans and service members can also earn academic credit for their military courses and military occupation they had while serving that could count toward their degree. Recognizing that the schedule of deployed service members can be unpredictable, Minnesota State has protections in place to ensure that service members are not negatively impacted while they are taking courses and are called up for either State Active Duty or Federal Active Duty. If a service member is called up for duty, they are provided options which include, but are not limited to withdraw from the course(s) and receive a refund or delay completion and complete the course upon release from active duty.


Minnesota State includes 26 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 300,000 students. It is the third-largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States.