Veteran pivots from military encrypting to computer networking

Nov 5, 2023Courtney Morris
San Jacinto College veteran student Keisha Parkes

At 17, Keisha Parkes signed an Army contract so her single mom would never worry about her having money or food. At 41, she enrolled at San Jacinto College with a different mission.

“I want to show my 21-year-old daughter it’s never too late to go after your dreams,” she said.

Parkes, who is pursuing a computer science associate degree, has always enjoyed working with computers and troubleshooting. During her 15 years in the Army, she served as a signal support system specialist, encrypting communications for satellite, antennas, and radio.

“Troubleshooting is second nature to me,” she said. “If I don’t know how to do it, I’ll find a way to do it.”

After graduating from San Jac next year, the veteran plans to complete her bachelor’s degree at Texas Southern University. Then she may work in the private sector as a network architect or administrator. Thanks to her military experience, cybersecurity could also be an option.

Parkes loves computers, but she didn’t love the fears she faced returning to the classroom after two decades. Questions tumbled in her mind: “So much has changed since I graduated. How am I going to do this? Will I be good enough?”

“Keisha,” her mom countered, “you’re smart. You can do this.”

As her biggest cheerleader predicted, Parkes could handle it. She has taken online classes at Generation Park, San Jac’s newest campus, and picked up classes at other campuses. She has even received an invitation to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

As a full-time student, she applies military discipline to her studies.

“I haven’t had a final grade lower than 89,” she said. “I try to schedule my classes early in the day to give myself the evening to pace out my homework. I like a four-day schedule for school, with Friday to relax — I do absolutely nothing school-related. After that, I finish whatever I have to do.”

Although the Army operates on perfection, Parkes has learned to give herself grace with assignments and course material.

“Sometimes you’re not going to understand something the first go-around,” she said. “It’s OK to ask for help. Take it one day at a time.”

Recently, she felt honored to be named Generation Park’s recipient of the San Jacinto College Veteran Student Success Scholarship.

“It’s OK when you think you’re doing good,” she said. “It’s even better when someone you’ve never met before thinks that.”

To celebrate Veterans Day, the San Jacinto College Foundation presented the scholarship to seven students Nov. 3. Whether Veterans Day or any other military celebration, Parkes welcomes the appreciation. When her service ended in 2015, she had deployed multiple times to Iraq and ranked as a sergeant in the reserves.

“When we sign our military contracts, we’re often young kids,” she said. “We sign for different reasons. No one really knows after signing what that means or entails. We go through a lot in our process of military service.”

Many know what should be done to protect freedoms, but few do the work. According to Parkes, every day — Veterans Day or not — is an excellent opportunity to thank a veteran in your circle and your community.

“I haven’t seen any celebration that is pointless,” she said. “Being seen and recognized means a lot.”

Learn more about San Jac's veteran services.

2023 Veteran Student Success Scholarship Recipients:

  • Christopher Alcala
  • Santos Castro
  • Jhanqia Johnson
  • Stephen Meeks
  • Sidney Montalvo
  • Abdiel Nava
  • Keisha Parkes
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