Viewing classes on an 'App' while at a child's sports practice… juggling the needs of a newborn while attending a three hour virtual night class… or figuring out ways to efficiently do your 'day' job so you can attend a virtual class that happens in the middle of your work day. These are just some of the scenarios and challenges four U.S. Army Redstone Test Center, or RTC, teammates overcame to earn their graduate degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School, or NPS, this summer.

Elizabeth Sheth, Wes Alford and LaShonda Carroll received Master of Science degrees in systems engineering, and Justin Scharber received a Master of Science degree in program management.

The 2017 summer quarter graduation ceremonies were held on the NPS campus in Monterrey, California, Sept. 22. In total, 298 DOD employees received degrees at the end of the summer quarter.

The distance learning program at NPS takes two years to complete. These students began their studies in September 2015.

Sheth and Alford worked on a capstone project with other U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command employees that involved looking at ways to improve the current digital library system being used at test and evaluation centers, including the recommendation for a different system to pursue in the future.

Carroll worked together with students employed by the Navy on a capstone project that dealt with proposing alternative solutions for an unmanned underwater vehicle launch and recovery system.

"Even though it does not relate essentially to what I do at work, the same methodology that we used can be applied to different projects throughout RTC," Carroll said. "Performing an analysis of alternatives for different concepts to find the best alternative solution can be applied to any project."

In pursuit of his program management degree, Scharber had a different course of study.

"I conducted research on operations and maintenance spending across the fiscal year," Scharber said. "My research was sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to identify trends and characteristics of the Department of the Navy's spending habits late in the fiscal year, outline potential root causes for late awards, ensure the government was getting the best value for the dollars spent, and recommend potential avenues for better spending practices."

Scharber explained that RTC could potentially use this research to further refine future services contracts and ensure the best value when soliciting. "The research identifies pros and cons of several contract vehicles, and how the timing of solicitations and awards can affect future performance."

All four RTC graduates agree the distance learning program at NPS is very well run. While students may not have the face-to-face interaction of an on-campus setting, they do have virtual interaction with instructors and other students.

"I usually don't like "distance" learning, but this format was great," Alford said. "You have the option of raising your hand and asking questions just like a classroom, but there is also a chat window for questions and comments if you don't want to interrupt. The sessions are recorded so you can go back and re-watch whatever you need, as often as you need. There were also [virtual] rooms where students could meet and work together on assignments."

Weekends were sometimes filled with research and writing, and everyone praised the understanding and patience of their families during the process.

"The balance was hard at first, but you eventually find a groove. The classes are actually during the work day… three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. So I was usually able to log on and participate live, even while doing work on the computer as needed. I would actually try to do assignments during lunch or stay late a day or two at work to complete them if possible," Sheth said.

"My first two quarters in the program were very challenging because I had a newborn baby," Carroll said. "The Tuesday lecture that was supposed to be during work hours, was changed to run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. because of sponsorship. It required a lot of work, dedication and sacrificing some family time in the beginning. After completing a couple of quarters, the balance of work, school and family came altogether."

Despite the long days and sometimes long weekends, all the RTC graduates said it was definitely worth it and they recommend NPS to other eligible government civilians looking to advance their education and careers.