More than 3,600 students will receive degrees from Texas A&M University Dec. 12-13, and all will have completed rigorous courses of study. Some will have overcome abject adversity while others will have arrived on the Reed Arena stage after notable diversions.
Gina Lane stands out from both perspectives. Her Green Beret husband, Mitch, was killed in Afghanistan in 2003 while on his second tour there, having been among the first to go in the wake of 9/11. She, thus, found herself a widow with two young children.
Persevering, she returned to Texas A&M to pursue a master’s degree in geography and succeeded to a degree that prompted praise from one of her primary professors.
“Gina completed a ground-breaking thesis on the geography of identity theft,” said Daniel Sui, her professor. “I have never worked with a graduate student whose dedication to seeking academic excellence matches Gina’s.”
Iraq War veteran Ryan Scott Brown came to Texas A&M after serving two tours of duty on the USS Nimitz. He is married with two young children and will graduate with a degree in electrical engineering—and a 3.938 grade point ratio.
Mary Betts Pena will graduate with a double degree--in history and telecommunications. She is a member of the Corps of Cadets and the Aggie Band and is set to enter the Navy as an ensign and train as a flight navigator, joining her naval aviator husband, Ricky.
Jessica Cuccio will graduate with her second degree from Texas A&M while caring for her twin brother, who has autism. She received a degree in education and human development in December 2007 and now is set to receive a degree in chemistry. She did it all while juggling classes to care for her brother.
Two sisters, equally determined to become teachers, returned to college after 20 years to achieve their goals. Robin Thurmond and Susan Butler put their college careers on hold to raise their families. They now both plan to teach in the Bryan Independent School District.
Ndambe Nzaramba, who was born in Rwanda, is the son of an Anglican priest whose family was forced to flee to Uganda in the wake of the genocide that claimed more than 800,000 people. He subsequently lost his right arm in an accident after earning an undergraduate degree in agriculture and thus had to learn to write and type with his left hand while studying for his doctorate in plant breeding. Recognizing his accomplishments, the Texas A&M Faculty Senate presented him with its prestigious Aggie Spirit Award in 2004.
Galina Sukhonosova, who had only conversational English skills when she immigrated with her mother from Russia in 2003,is set to receive a B.S. degree in biomedical engineering and now plans to immediately pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. While studying for her undergraduate degree, she made financial ends meet by working as a sales associate at a local department store but has now been offered a position as a lab assistant in the Dwight Look College of Engineering. The senior academic advisor for biomedical engineering, Fidel G. Fernandez, said: “I am personally amazed that she was able to successfully complete the degree requirements for a demanding engineering degree while still learning the English language.”