Information Sciences and Technology

Active-duty Marine makes Penn State a stepping stone on military career path

College of IST, Naval ROTC student Gunnery Sergeant Charles Hickey balances classwork, family responsibilities and military duties in pursuit of degree

Gunnery Sergeant Charles Hickey Credit: Rachel RubinAll Rights Reserved.

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories honoring members of the College of Information Sciences and Technology community during Penn State Military Appreciation Week). 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The path to Penn State was less than traditional for Gunnery Sergeant Charles Hickey, a fourth-year student studying security and risk analysis in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. An active-duty Marine, Hickey enlisted in the military shortly after graduating from high school in 2008, and completed two deployments in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. After that service, he re-enlisted to become a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina, where he trained recruits to become United States Marines. Upon completion of that tour, he completed two more deployments in Okinawa, Japan, also spending time in Australia and South Korea.  

“I’m proud to be a Marine because of the things that I’ve witnessed and seen my fellow Marines do -- the odds that they’ve overcome and the sacrifices that they make, putting other people above themselves,” Hickey said. 

Hickey’s Penn State experience began when he was hired as the assistant marine officer instructor with the University’s Naval ROTC in 2018. He grew up in Bedford, Pennsylvania, attending football games as a kid with his father, an alumnus. Hickey aspired to make Penn State a stepping stone in his career as a way to be closer to family for a period of time while he pursued his degree. 

“I didn’t come here as a student; I came here as a staff member,” Hickey said.  

He soon began taking some classes online through Penn State World Campus while working full time. Halfway through his tour as an ROTC instructor, Hickey was accepted to the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program -- an enlisted-to-officer path that ends with a commission as a second lieutenant -- to become a full-time Naval ROTC student at University Park.

“This program is nice because my job is to go to school,” Hickey said. “And while I have ROTC requirements, they are not as taxing as what I’m used to as a Marine in the fleet, such as training or deployments.” 

An adult learner, Hickey is learning in the classroom with students much younger than he is.  

“I’m at a different phase in my life than the other students,” Hickey said. “Sometimes I’m 10 years older than my peers here so it can be interesting when I learn things that I’m not privy to, like what’s big in pop culture.”  

Interacting with those younger students has helped Hickey to learn more than just the latest in movies and music. He’s learned more about himself, including how to be patient with people -- especially his classmates who operate on a much different schedule than he does as an adult learner with a family. He credits his wife, Denielle, with taking care of the majority of the household responsibilities so he can balance being an active father to their three children, Ella (9), Sawyer (7), and Miles (17 months) while focusing on his education.  

“Most college students come to campus to go to class and then do their work at home,” Hickey said. “I keep myself in a routine and treat the whole day like a work day and then get home around 4. From that time until my kids go to bed, I don’t do any work because I am just trying to be present.” 

Being present with his family is something that Hickey cherishes while he is pursuing his degree.  

“I haven’t deployed in almost four years, so I’ve been able to spend more time with my kids and see them grow,” he said. “When I leave Penn State and go back to the fleet, I’ll be deploying again and have operational commitments that require me to miss those family moments.”  

After graduation, Hickey will attend The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia for six months to learn infantry tactics and receive further military training to continue advancing his career with the Marines. He chose to attend the College of IST because of the reputation of its security and risk analysis program, which prepares graduates for careers in the military and federal agencies, specifically in the intelligence community. 

“I’m building on a lot of things I already knew, but I’m also getting outside of my comfort zone because I’m not a computer person at all,” he said. “Some of the classes I’ve taken have been challenging and it’s made me a better Marine, a better student and a better person to be able to take these challenging courses, do well and see the results.” 

In honor of his Marine Corps background, Hickey will serve as a student moderator during the next installment of IST Alumni Identity Talks, focusing on military members and veterans in technology, at noon Wednesday, Nov. 17. The virtual series invites students and other members of the Penn State community to learn from IST alumni as they discuss challenges and opportunities they’ve faced as individuals from underrepresented backgrounds as they’ve navigated their college and professional careers. Learn more at ist.psu.edu/identity-talks.  

Last Updated November 11, 2021