James Sorrells was just a few months away from earning his bachelor’s degree when he enlisted in the military.

A senior criminal justice major at a university in western North Carolina, Sorrells felt lost.

“I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know who I was.”

That was 2007. Fast forward to the summer of 2015, and Sorrells was a Green Beret serving in Afghanistan. Having spent eight years in the Army, he finally knew who he was, and he also knew the next step in his career: physician assistant school.

Sorrells became interested in medicine during a special operations combat medic course, and immediately knew it was something he wanted to pursue as a civilian.

The first step in his plan? Finish the degree he began more than a decade ago.

“I started doing some research, and I came across UNCG’s Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the human condition, so the program and the coursework made sense for me.”

The Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies – or BLS – is an online, interdisciplinary program for working adults who have at least 60 transferable credits that can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree, or for individuals who have already completed an associate’s degree. The program offers concentrations in the humanities, the social sciences and professional studies.

The flexibility was perfect for Sorrells, who started the program last August while he was still deployed in Afghanistan.

“At first it was difficult. But after a few months, I started to find a rhythm,” he said. “The professors were very understanding – they helped me out a lot.”

Sorrells was honorably discharged from the Army in June and is currently completing his final semester of the BLS program. Additionally, he’s enrolled in the prerequisite courses needed for physician assistant school.

For Sorrells, the skills he developed as a Green Beret – specifically self-reliability, confidence and time management – have contributed to his success in the classroom.

“As a Green Beret, I learned that impossibility is nothing but a mindset – a mental obstacle or an excuse,” Sorrells said. “Something may be challenging, but through relentless dedication and perseverance, there is always a solution to any problem.”

Another key to his success is family. Sorrells is grateful for the constant support from his wife, Jenna, and their three children.

His advice for other working adults looking to complete their degree? Start following your dreams today.

“I like to encourage people to self-reflect on what they want and what’s holding them back,” he said. “What’s in your way? If you want to continue your education, make the phone call right now.”

 

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Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications