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From the Battlefield to the Classroom

Travis Mertz never thought he would earn his bachelor's degree. Thanks to Albright's Accelerated Degree Programs, the 28-year-old Army veteran will be the first in his family to graduate college.


By Hilary Bentman

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Travis Mertz is working toward a bacehlor's degree in crime & justice from Albright's ADP program.

Travis Mertz graduated high school unsure of what to do next.

"It was up in the air," he says. "I had two part-time jobs but I was on a road that I didn't know where I would end up."

The Reading native took some community college classes but eventually left and joined the Army. It was a choice that took him from Pennsylvania to Alaska to the Middle East.

If you asked Mertz back then if he'd ever get his bachelor's degree, he would have said no. After all, no one in his family had ever graduated college.

But that's about to change. In a few months, the veteran of the War in Afghanistan will cross the stage at Albright College's Commencement and receive his bachelor's in crime and justice. The degree will improve his chances of realizing his dream of working for the Department of Homeland Security.

Mertz is also inspiring others to go back to school, and he may not be done himself. A master's degree, he says, is not out of the question.

"You get the school bug. You get hooked."

The 28-year-old is part of Albright's Accelerated Degree Programs, which enable working adults to start or complete a bachelor's degree in as little as two years. Through a cohort-based program, students can take classes one night a week at one of 10 convenient locations throughout central and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Mertz attends classes for four hours on Wednesday nights in Bethlehem, just 15 minutes from the Whitehall home he shares with his wife. The schedule allows him to work fulltime as a 911 dispatcher for Northampton County, where he logs 50 to 55 hours a week.

"It's perfect. It falls right in place," says Mertz. "Nowadays, more than any other time, it's a necessity to have an education."

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But Mertz didn’t always feel this way. While he took some classes at Lehigh Carbon Community College, he walked away, uncertain if he wanted to continue his education. So he joined the Army and served as a specialist with the airborne infantry.

"I made the decision one day that if the military isn't what I want to do, at least it will help point me in the right direction," he recalls.

A few years later, Mertz knows he's heading due north.

With the support of the GI Bill® and bolstered by his military training, a strong desire to better himself and his employment prospects, and good old perseverance, Mertz returned to the classroom.

He completed his associate's degree at LCCC, where he heard about Albright's ADP program and "realized it's stupid not to at least try" for a bachelor's.

Mertz has even inspired his older brother to pursue higher education. When Mertz enrolled at Albright, his brother began classes at community college.

"He's using me as a stepping stone," says Mertz.

Mertz acknowledges that at first he wasn't sure if he was cut out for a bachelor's program. "I thought, 'I don't know if I can do this.' But my adviser laid down all the facts and then it became 'why can't I do this?'"

The accelerated program in crime and justice involves an analysis of criminal deviance and its roots, plus an in-depth understanding of our criminal justice system's successes and failures.

Unlike other criminal justice programs, students are not trained specifically for police work. Rather, students are educated in the academic study of crime, criminology and justice in preparation for a variety of positions within the criminal justice system.

"Travis is an engaging student; not only is he extremely committed to pursuing his undergraduate degree, he is also willing to assist others in his cohort at any time," says Carla Abodalo, sociology instructor and academic program coordinator of the crime and justice program.

And Mertz's military background has proven beneficial in the classroom.

"He does a very good job of making connections between his experiences in the military and academic perspectives," says Abodalo. "This lends a unique dimension to the classroom experience not only for him but his professors and other cohort members as well."

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