Spotlight on Active Duty Military Graduate Student | Cortney Downs

Cortney Downs

"College is not easy, but it is most definitely worth it. Use your tuition assistance benefits, GI Bill, and the new scholarship agreement between Hood College and Ft. Detrick to help fund your way through school."

Cortney Downs


  • Biomedical Science (M.S.)


  • Biology

Why did you choose Hood College?

When I first got stationed at Ft. Detrick, I had the most fantastic mentor and division chief who has recently retired. I met with LTC Todd Kijek back in June of 2017, and during this meeting we talked about my educational background as well as the professional work experience I had accumulated prior to my military service.

As soon as he knew about my science background, he encouraged me to go home that night and apply to the Graduate School at Hood College in order to pursue a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Science. Curiously enough, he is an alumnus of this very same program! I went back to my barracks room that night and did my research. Not only was Hood College within a ten minute driving distance, but the classes were in the evenings after I finished work for the day.

The GPA requirement to get into the school was doable, and the GRE’s were not a requirement. I applied that very night and heard back very shortly that I was accepted into the Biomedical Science program! After being stationed at Ft. Detrick in mid-June 2017, I was set to start my Master’s Degree in August. I was incredibly excited to say the least!

What is it like being an active member of the United States Military and a graduate student?

Being an active duty soldier and a student in a graduate degree program is a very interesting combination of lifestyles. It almost feels as though I live four separate lives: a soldier 24/7, a scientist during the workday, a civilian student by night, and an animal mom, friend, daughter, and girlfriend on the weekends at home in Pennsylvania.

What is the hardest part of being an active duty graduate student?

The hardest part of being a student in the military is simply balancing my “four separate lives.” We have a lot of responsibilities in the military that our civilian counterparts do not quite understand. For example, we have flag privilege and staff duty, we attend ranges and physical training, we have appearance standards, barracks and uniform inspections, as well as a ton of online and in-person military training. It takes some time to get into the swing of balancing everything.

What is the most rewarding part of being an active duty graduate student?

I am a firm believer in the idea of leading by the example you set. I push myself every day to be the best person I can be. Motivating and encouraging others to grow as people and pursue any and all educational opportunities is important to me. I offer assistance to everyone I know who is struggling to navigate the process of searching for colleges and then applying at the school that is the best fit for them. Education has, and always will be, a huge and very important part of my life! So in short, pursuing higher education sets an example for others that education is important, and that speaks volumes!

What advice would you give fellow military soldiers in regards to pursuing higher education?

I tell everyone to go to college. Graduating from college is a huge accomplishment for everyone. It shows that you could set a goal and follow it through to the very end. Senior leadership and future employers will see that you graduated from college, and it makes you stand out above your battle buddies and peers. College is not easy, but it is most definitely worth it. Use your tuition assistance (TA) benefits, GI Bill, and the new scholarship agreement between Hood College and Ft. Detrick to help fund your way through school. It will be worth it, I promise!

What is your favorite thing about the Graduate School at Hood College?

I absolutely love Hood College! My favorite thing about Hood College has to be the people. I have made great friends who are also in the Biomedical Science Program. My professors have been great mentors and fantastic people. Ann Boyd, Ph.D. (the Biomedical Science program director) is superwoman, and I aspire to be half the woman that she is! April Boulton, Ph.D. (the Dean of the Graduate School) is the absolute sweetest, most understanding, thoughtful, and encouraging person I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The Graduate School has simply become my home away from home, my family, my friends, and something to look forward to every week. I love it.

Inspired by Cortney's story to #GOFURTHER in your studies? Learn about the Graduate School at Hood College, including the Biomedical Science program by clicking here.