UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Katherine Meckler, a captain in the United States Air Force, helps pilots to navigate the skies, has completed six deployments around the world since 2017, and moved across the country for a new assignment. Despite leading such a busy life, she is pursuing her master’s degree online from Penn State and carries a 4.0 GPA.
Meckler is a Penn State World Campus student who is balancing the demands of serving in the military and working toward a master’s degree in geographic information systems. Meckler, who has a bachelor’s degree in geography, hopes her master’s degree will allow her to go back to the geographic information field once her active-duty military service ends.
“I knew I wanted to get it in something similar to my undergraduate degree since I loved what I studied,” said Meckler, who received her bachelor’s degree from Penn State’s Department of Geography in 2014. “It only made sense to look at World Campus programs because Penn State is world-renowned for its geography programs, and World Campus would allow me to study anywhere in the world.”
Meckler traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East for her airborne job. She used every bit of downtime that she could find to pursue her degree.
“Getting my work done was more about time management than anything else,” Meckler said. “Most of the time I was just able to work on school from my hotel room or the base library.”
Other times, Meckler was able to turn technological challenges into opportunities.
“There was this one deployment when the internet was spotty in my hotel room, so I did most of my work in a pub down the street. I would sit there for hours and the staff got to know me pretty well,” Meckler said. “They would just keep bringing me tea kettle after tea kettle, sometimes with a scone and clotted cream or a slice of spice cake on the house. It was a wonderful way to immerse myself in the culture.”
Meckler said that her success was made possible in part by Penn State instructors who understood her military lifestyle.
“They were communicating with me constantly to work out a plan,” Meckler said of her professors, who teach in the Department of Geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “They treated me as a valuable member of their community and genuinely care about my success in their program.”
Meckler received the 2019 Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award in Geospatial Intelligence, which recognizes achievement by a Penn State graduate who is serving or has served in the U.S. armed forces or the intelligence community, based on their contribution to the geospatial intelligence discipline.
“It was an absolute honor to receive the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award not only because of what it honors, but also for who it honors,” Meckler said. “To me, Lt. Murphy was the physical embodiment of giving your all in whatever you do.”
Meckler expects to graduate in May. She aspires to transition her passion for geographic information systems to a career with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency after her active-duty military service ends.
Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about the master’s degree in geographic information systems.