Alumna Spotlight- Kathleen Elberson


Kathleen Elberson graduated from EKU with a Bachelor’s degree in History in 2009. After graduating she became an Arabic cryptologic linguist with the Army National Guard. Kathleen answered our questions about her experiences at EKU, her position in the Army, and her plans for the future:

How did you decide that the Army National Guard was the right next step for you?

Well, the next step after college is often not always crystal clear, especially when you’re still uncertain as to what it is you want to do. In my last semester at Eastern this impending uncertainty was becoming an increasingly greater reality. It was early 2009, the job market was terrible, and the job outlook for graduates with political science and non-teaching history degrees was not the brightest. Graduate course work was always a goal, but still I had not honed in on anything in particular I wanted to pursue. Nevertheless, I had to do something; I have never been one to wait for something to come along.

We’re all influenced by things and people in our lives, sometimes on a grand scale and sometimes subtly, or without our knowledge. During my last year at EKU, I had dated a ROTC cadet and had become friends with several others. I was exposed to many of the activities and obligations they were involved in, and although too late for me to get involved in the program, there was an appeal about his lifestyle I was drawn to. Like many college romances, the future officer and I did not make the cut, but the seed of a possible military future was planted. I was not 100% convinced the military was for me, and that is when I began to explore the options of the Army National Guard. This option allowed me to serve my country, while also continuing to pursue my own ambitions outside of the military. It was a way to test the waters, and I am glad I did. When it came time to meet with recruiters, I knew exactly what I wanted to do—Military Intelligence. With the help of my recruiters I was able to obtain an esteemed slot at the Defense Language Institute, and knew then I had a direction.

What is your position in the National Guard?

Currently I am a sergeant in the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. My military occupation specialty (MOS), basically my job within the Army, is an Arabic cryptologic linguist. The core of my job besides normal day-to-day operations involves signals intelligence (SIGINT). Additionally I am an Arabic linguist for my unit, so when my language skills are needed I am able to help support the mission.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being in the National Guard? The most rewarding?

As a member of the National Guard, perhaps the greatest challenge is balancing your military and civilian lives. As opposed to service members on active duty, members of the National Guard have their military duties in addition to their civilian jobs and responsibilities. For myself, there are times I get back-logged with my graduate studies and I often use the weekends to catch up and decompress. More often than not, drill weekends always seem to fall between my busiest weeks, so I lose that time that I need to accomplish my educational commitments. Also of course, drill weekends and other training events affect my social and personal life as well, which can be frustrating at times.

On the other hand, it is the sacrifices aforementioned that give me a sense of pride in what I do. I truly am honored to serve my country. Since joining the military I have had opportunities that very few have shared. With that being said, in my short military career I have been lucky to work with some amazing people and made life-long friends. Also, as a non-commissioned officer I enjoy working with my soldiers not only teaching and training them, but learning alongside of them too. So in short, I guess the most rewarding thing about enlisting would be the culmination of all my experiences and how they will make me a better leader, future employee, and individual.

Do you feel that your degree from Eastern has equipped you to be competitive in your field?

During my five years at Eastern, I was able to complete two bachelor’s degrees—History and Political Science. The classwork from both of these majors undoubtedly prepared me for the next step in my post-graduate life. Critical thinking and problem solving are two foundational skills that were not only necessary to be successful in my course work, but in my intelligence analysis work too. As a military intelligence operator and analyst, I have to think outside of the information and facts given or available sometimes, and that confidence to do so came from the challenges of my assignments and professors. Moreover, aside from the benefits to my military profession, my studies at Eastern definitely developed not just thought processes, but also my writing and communication skills. These competencies have proven to be invaluable, especially in my graduate work at the University of Kentucky.

Did you have any role-models or mentors at Eastern that you feel have influenced you?

Spending half a decade on campus you come into contact with a great number of individuals, many who impact your studies and educational track in some way or another. But, there are two professors in particular that I would like to showcase. On the history side of the house, Dr. Tom Appleton, was and still is unquestionably one of the greatest influences not only educationally but in all aspects of my life. My very first history course at EKU was in 2005 with Dr. A, and since that semester he has not only been a great educator and mentor, but friend as well. In fact, his American history course was the stimulus for me becoming a history major. Across the courtyard, in the McCreary building you will find another amazing advisor and educator. Similar to my experience with the history department, my very first political science class was a general education requirement with Dr. Gregory Gunderson. For those of you who have had the pleasure and experience of enrolling in one of Dr. Gunderson’s classes, you already understand no further explanation is warranted. Some may deem his teaching methods as unconventional, but to me he is an innovative teacher who really understands and connects with his students. I took several classes with Dr. Gunderson over the course of my studies because he not only offered inventive strategies for learning, but was engaging in his instruction and challenged us outside of typical university parameters. As I stated, I had some impeccable professors at Eastern, but these two gentlemen in particular stand out to me because they have the ability to inspire when you’re feeling burned out.

In terms of your long-term career ambitions, what do you hope to be doing?

I get this question far too often, and I feel I disappoint with each answer. To be honest, I am not entirely sure! I do know I have a passion for international affairs and relations, especially matters concerning intelligence and security; however, I do not want to be pigeon-holed into one field. I enjoy what I do in the military with signals intelligence, but I am not sure this is a path I want to pursue. On a side note, working with classified material prohibits me from being able to share a lot of what I do, and although I understand that is a necessity it may not be something I would enjoy long-term. Actually, my career ambitions cover a broad spectrum and I hope to hold a variety of positions and really have diversity fill my resume. With that said, at the moment I have taken an interest in working for the FBI. I have always been drawn to this agency, and believe I can be an asset domestically as well. But, who knows! Ask me in a year and I very well may have new notions of what my life’s ambitions are!

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Categories: Alumni Spotlight


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