Eagle Earns Master's Degree While Juggling Parenting and Full-Time Work

Kunkle studied online while parenting to earn her graduate degree.
Brandi Kunkle, a mom, military spouse and full-time assistant director of student recruitment, just received a master's degree in Leadership from Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus. (Photo: U.S. Navy VX-9 PAO)

Growing up in Mayo, Florida, population 1,130, Brandi Kunkle had two goals: earn an undergraduate degree and move out of her small town.

“These goals felt ambitious, particularly because I didn’t have anyone in my family who had gone off to college,” Kunkle said.

Still, she was determined, and in January 2022, after achieving her goal of earning a bachelor’s degree, she embarked on a journey to go even further, advancing to a master’s degree in Leadership from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She achieved that goal, as well, this month, doing so with distinction, based on a 4.0 grade point average.

Kunkle studied online while parenting to earn her graduate degree (Photo: Brandi Kunkle)

The mother of two boys, ages 3 and 5, Kunkle kept up with her studies while balancing a full-time job. Her husband, who is a Navy F/A-18E pilot, is also currently deployed to the Middle East.

Kunkle said completing her master’s is deeply meaningful to her.

“It goes beyond a mere academic milestone; it represents a journey of tenacity, self-discovery and countless moments of pushing through challenges,” she said. “Each late night of studying — paused for bedtime routines or family responsibilities — every effort to balance work, family, travel, military life and personal goals holds a special place in my heart.”

Although Kunkle completed her program this month, she plans to walk the stage in the April 2024 commencement ceremony in Daytona Beach.

Kunkle said the flexibility of Embry-Riddle’s online programs, hosted by the university’s Worldwide Campus, was critical to her success. Online courses are divided into nine-week programs and “weekly modules,” which allowed her to mold her academic schedule into her already busy life. By the spring of 2023, Kunkle had moved five times in seven years as a military spouse, with her latest move, which was cross-country, occurring while she was working on her graduate degree.

Kunkle’s full-time job, as an assistant director of student recruitment for Embry-Riddle, also entails a fair amount of movement. Toward the end of 2022, Kunkle said she had visited 10 states and 14 cities, and had traveled on 23 flights for the university.

Dr. Daryl Watkins, professor in Embry-Riddle Department of Management and Technology, complimented Kunkle’s dedication and talent.

"Brandi's meticulous planning for each term, her ability to unite her classmates around group projects and her consistency in submitting assignments on day one of the module week are just a few examples of the skills she's refined through balancing her roles as a mother, military spouse and full-time staff member," Watkins said. "Our leadership program emphasizes deep reflection on each student's strengths, goals and values. Through our discussions, Brandi's unwavering commitment to serving students with excellence shone through, as did her talent for leading her team with passion and empathy." 

When her husband is not deployed or on detachments, Kunkle said, he takes care of the boys when she is away on work travel.

“A huge shoutout to my husband, Andrew Kunkle, for balancing his career and crushing solo dad ops while I am away and working on assignments for grad school,” Kunkle wrote on her LinkedIn account.

Thanking her colleagues for their flexibility, Kunkle said that on the occasions that she needs to go on a work trip when her husband is away, her mother-in-law flies in from California to take care of her grandchildren.

One of main motivations in continuing her education, Kunkle said, has been to model ambition and perseverance for her boys.

“I want my boys to learn from my example that life is filled with challenges, but with grit, resilience, hard work and faith, they can overcome anything,” she said. “Watching how their mom and dad support each other in juggling education, work and family, I hope they pick up on the importance of staying determined in the face of difficulties.”

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