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Balancing school and deployment

Cpl.'s advice: Talk to your professors about your service

Dec. 17, 2013 - 11:28AM   |  
Marine Reserve Cpl. Barbara Rutter in a physics/engineering lab at the Southern Arkansas University Science Center.
Marine Reserve Cpl. Barbara Rutter in a physics/engineering lab at the Southern Arkansas University Science Center. (SAU Communications)
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Barbara Rutter loves a challenge. She excelled in one of the most challenging degree programs at Southern Arkansas University while serving in what she dubs the most difficult branch of the U.S. military.

Rutter, a Marine Reserve corporal from New Llano, La., is slated to graduate this December from SAU’s Physics and Engineering program. She admitted that she could not complete her college journey in four years, but for good reason — her yearlong activation for an Afghanistan deployment.

Having to put her studies on hold did not make her lose what she had learned or affect her motivation to finish upon returning stateside.

In fact, Rutter not only presented research she had worked on before she deployed, but she won first place for her work at the Arkansas Academy of Science’s spring 2013 conference and at the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence conference in the fall of 2013.

According to Dr. Abdel Bachri, SAU associate professor of physics, Rutter earned a travel scholarship from SAU to attend both conferences. At the INBRE conference at the University of Arkansas, she won first place among 24 entries. The award was based on her project’s technical merit and her ability to explain the research.

“Barbara is tough in class and tougher in the field,” Bachri said. “She works really hard. She is considering completing a master’s in nuclear physics [to] work in a submarine as a nuclear engineer. If that’s what she wants, that’s what she’ll get. She’s a special student.”

Rutter says she was interested in physics and chemistry in high school and that SAU offered her the best scholarship. She also knew she was going to serve in the Marine Corps.

“My dad was in the Army, and I always knew I wanted to serve my country,” Rutter said. “I joined the Marine Corps because it is the most difficult branch of the military, and I like a challenge.”

After Rutter finished her freshman year at SAU, she went to boot camp, then got trained to be a motor transport operator.

Back on campus in the fall of 2010, she found out about a summer research program at Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley, Calif., where Bachri takes select physics students to perform research at the renowned lab.

Rutter wanted desperately to go, but she had to change her Reserve summer schedule for the internship. She said it was a nail-biter getting permission for the Berkeley experience from her Reserve group.

While at Berkeley National Lab, Rutter worked on building a prototype to detect neutrinoless double beta decay in xenon 136 gas. Her goal was to further analyze the X-ray data her peers had collected.

Rutter had to withdraw from school in the fall of 2011 for her unit’s deployment and then faced administrative headaches when she got back — she’d been given failing grades in her courses when she withdrew. Her advice to troops who find themselves in the same boat: You need to persevere to get this corrected. Talk to your adviser and the veterans representative at your school.

For drilling reservists, she said it’s important to tell your professors up front that you’ll have to drill on certain days and which classes you may have to miss.

— Jim Williamson

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