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NEWS | Oct. 1, 2020

STEM education the building block for career success

By Courtesy Story 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support)

An education with a focus on STEM encompasses a broad series of disciplines that opens doors to many career fields.

In her own words, Maj. Esther Cleggs-Burns talks about how she began her career with an education in plant science with concentration in biotechnology from Fort Valley State University. Leveraging her skills and education gained at FVSU she expanded her reach working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency as the farm loan chief.

FVSU gave me the foundation to think through problems critically which has assisted in my development as an officer working in plans and operations. In addition, I joined ROTC my junior year which gave me a solid military foundation.

Combining these backgrounds and experiences into a career, I didn’t do it alone, I leaned on mentors and family as inspiration.

In high school, I had the desire to pursue biomedical engineering or become a pediatric physical therapist. During my senior year, my vice principal spoke to me about scholarships that were available in agriculture that were not available in other sectors. He enlightened me on different agriculture degree programs that would allow me to take the pre-requisites I’d need to pursue the career I wanted and scholarships that would pay for my education. The USDA gave me a “full ride” to attend Fort Valley State University.

I learned the importance of chosen family while at college. The historically Black college and university experience is like none other. It was a family atmosphere that allowed the freedom to experience life, but also kept me focused on the goal of graduating. My professors, department head, and dean were all integral parts of my matriculation and development as a young adult. They afforded me opportunities for work-study, internships, and serving as an agriculture ambassador. They taught me the importance of building relationships, relationships I still have.

I joined ROTC my junior year which gave me a solid military foundation as well. A lot of the men in my family served (my dad and all his brothers, my grandfather, my mom’s brother, and my brother) and I wanted to follow in their footsteps as well as make them proud as the only woman in my family to serve.

In my military career, I have had the opportunity to deploy with the Army Reserve to both Afghanistan and Qatar. Most recently, I commanded 85 Army Reserve Soldiers, as part of Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force 005-1’s, deployment to Elmhurst Hospital in New York City in support of COVID 19 relief.

As a 70H, health service plans officer, I wasn’t dealing directly with COVID patients but utilizing my civilian and Army skills to manage the team and keep these critical medical providers sharp and ready.

I am honored to serve in the military. Every assignment stretches me in a different way which benefits not only my military career, but my civilian career and personal development.

Yes, my family is sometimes nervous, fearful, and disheartened, but they are always proud. I have an extremely supportive husband and family that will be there for him as needed with our two girls. They serve when I serve. Along with family, prayer and meditation is how I deal with stress in my life.

I am fulfilled by what I do. I take pride in what I do. I enjoy the duality of having a civilian and military career.