As Chief Faculty Advisor at the Staff Non Commission Officer Academy (SNCOA) Camp Pendleton training program, Staff Sgt. Victoria J. Graham encourages Marines to take the Military Leadership program offered by Palomar College. Graham, a graduate of the Palomar program, recently had her own leadership recognized as the Training and Education Command (TECOM) Faculty Advisor of the Year.

Graham received the award for “superior leadership, outstanding instruction and professional contribution” Aug. 10 from the Marine Corps Association, a nonprofit organization that supports the Marine Corps. She was one of six finalists from Marine Corps SNCO academies throughout the nation.

Graham works at Camp Pendleton’s Sergeant School, a five- to six-week course for Marine sergeants that teaches communication, leadership, sustaining and war fighting.

“They learn how to apply those things to their everyday lives as sergeants, and it makes them promotable to the next rank,” Graham said.

“The Military Leadership program is designed to provide an educational pathway for students who may not think of a college degree as they serve our country,” said Dr. Star Rivera-Lacey, Superintendent/President of Palomar College.  “We have students who have gone on to pursue their graduate degrees and show interest in coming back to Palomar College to teach in the program.  It is a win-win for everyone,” she added.

Palomar College started the Military Leadership Program in 2020, which allows Marines in Sergeant School to apply their coursework toward credits at the college. Students can earn 12 credit units followed by 2,000 hours on the job that can lead to an associate degree in Military Leadership from Palomar College.

The program began at Camp Pendleton and in February 2022, it was extended to the Marine Corps bases at Quantico and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Graham, who completed the program last August, said it encourages Marines to pursue a college degree and shows them the experience they are gaining will serve them.

“It helps the students realize that they’re not wasting their time in the military,” she said. “What they do in the military can translate to a civilian job. They’re going to be able to use the skills they’ve learned.”

Graham said Palomar College has been understanding with Marines who might not be able to complete an assignment while on duty.

“Since Palomar has been working with the military, students don’t have to freak out if they have a field op,” she said. “They are going to be really flexible with them because they understand our culture.”

Graham, who grew up in the small town of Waterloo, Michigan, said she decided to join the Marine Corps in 2010 after the horse farm where she had been working was sold and she needed a job. She served a deployment in Afghanistan, and has also been stationed at bases in South Carolina, Florida and Japan before she came to Camp Pendleton in 2017.

She earned an associate degree from American Military University in 2018 and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in emergency services and security management from the university next June.

Graham said she is making her career in the Marine Corps, and finds her greatest satisfaction when a Marine in the training program asks her to serve as their mentor.

“When you get these sergeants in, they are young but they have a lot of growth,” she said. “They come in one of type of individual, but they leave as a leader.”