Persistence pushes retiree to finish degree

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

Working from a tent while deployed or at home late into the night, a now-retired Cannon Air Force Base airman has earned three college degrees, including a doctorate.

Bob Elliott, a 25-year veteran who retired in 2004, graduated May 8 with a doctorate in Higher Education from Texas Tech University. He did most of the work for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees while on active duty.

Elliott said he learned only half of 1 percent of people earn a doctorate.

“That’s when I felt like, ‘Well, I guess I did accomplish something,’” he said. “But none of that would have been possible without the support of my family and friends and colleagues.”

Julie Elliott, Elliott’s wife of 23 years, said the doctoral work was hardest right before the end.

“But, boy, that graduation day was a big moment of relief and a great day of happiness for all of us,” she said.

Elliott’s daughter, 21-year-old Candace, said his research gave her perspective in her own higher education studies. Her 18-year-old brother, Kyle, said the research helped him understand educational issues.

Since shortly before he finished his doctoral work, Elliot has served as director of the Eastern New Mexico University aviation science program.

“Life took me full circle back to aviation,” Elliott said, adding that he never imagined he would work in an aviation education program.

Elliott started his bachelor’s degree in 1979, when he entered the Air Force. After serving in the Air National Guard in Ohio for 2 1/2 years, he started active duty.

“I liked working on aircraft too much,” Elliott said of why he pursued the military over his degree.

Elliott worked as an aircraft maintenance technician throughout his Air Force career.

However, he said he knew he would have to be marketable in a civilian skill after the military, so he took classes here and there. When he was deployed, he did class work in tents and e-mailed it to instructors at Wayland Baptist University’s Clovis branch.

In 2000, Elliott finished his bachelor’s with a double major in management and corporate training and development. A year later, he started his master’s degree in education, also from Wayland.

A professor had encouraged Elliott to pursue the graduate degree, and the military would help with tuition.

“And I always knew that having a degree is something nobody can take from you,” he said.

Within a month of going on terminal leave from the military, Elliott graduated with his master’s degree. Again, faculty encouraged him to pursue a higher degree.

“At the time I said ‘no way,’” Elliott recalled. “But after a year, I had decided to pursue a doctorate of philosophy through Texas Tech University.”

Elliott wanted to teach and help students more than his master’s degree allowed, so he talked with his wife.

“I didn’t want to push him to do anything or tell him no, he couldn’t,” Julie Elliott said.

She encouraged her husband to do what would help him achieve his dreams, and he has done the same for her, Julie Elliott said.

Candace Elliott said her father had more jobs to do during his doctoral work than when he was studying on active duty.

“I think he put a lot of hard work into it,” she said of the degree.

Kyle Elliott said his father worked late into the night and early in the morning. The family stayed around the house while Bob Elliott worked, and then went out to do other things when he wanted a break, Kyle said.

Near the end of his doctoral work, Elliott said, he wanted to give up, but he felt like he would let down the people who had encouraged him.

“That’s what gave me the most motivation toward the end,” he said. “That, and my loans would come due if I didn’t finish it, and I wouldn’t have a degree to show for it.”

Now that he’s finished, Elliott said he has seen his graduation influence others, including encouraging a cousin to pursue a bachelor’s degree and bringing a sense of accomplishment to the professor who encouraged him to get the degree.