George Mason University

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Mason grad student applies lessons learned from the Marine Corps to his studies

November 8, 2019   /   by John Hollis

Rediet Woldeselassie served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and did two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. (photo provided)

School can be stressful, but George Mason University alumnus Rediet Woldeselassie has the benefit of perspective after 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps that included three combat tours and a stint in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Now a second-year master’s student studying health informatics with a concentration in health data analytics, Woldeselassie, 35, takes the unexpected ups and downs in stride.

“I learned not to stress,” he said. “School is stressful, a whole different kind of stress. But I also learned that it isn’t a permanent stress because there’s always ways around it. Learning that helps you to grow.”

It’s the kind of maturity you might expect from a seasoned Marine who completed two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan before leaving the Marine Corps as a gunnery sergeant in 2014. Known affectionately to his friends as “Red,” Woldeselassie enlisted in the Marine Corps in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was serving in New Orleans as a logistics and supply administrator in the months following Katrina’s landfall, lending a helping hand to locals rebuilding their lives.

“It was pretty satisfying,” said Woldeselassie, who is a recipient this year of the ERPi Patriot Scholarship available to veterans and their dependents. “We got to build schools and help people. We were able to make a real difference.”

Following his departure from the military in 2014, Woldeselassie enrolled at Mason on the GI Bill the following year. But the transition to civilian life wasn’t easy. He was much older than his new classmates and had seen more real adversity than anything most of them might ever imagine. And he knew nothing about college life.

But Woldeselassie wasn’t about to let any of that deter him.

“There was definitely an adjustment period because I didn’t know anything about this lifestyle,” he said. “I knew about the military, but I didn’t know anything about college. So I challenged myself to learn as much as I could do about it. It took a little bit of humbling, but, at the same time, that was important because this was the life I wanted to be successful at right now.”

He proved to be as up to that challenge as he was to those he faced while serving in the Marine Corps. As an undergraduate, Woldeselassie worked as a research assistant in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development, analyzing the impact of education on minority and underrepresented university students. He earned a bachelor of science in health administration in May 2018 before immediately starting grad school two weeks later.

Since 2016, Woldeselassie has been actively involved with the National Academy of Medicine, volunteering as a research case author and lead co-author for the D.C. Public Health Case Challenge. He’s had several of his works published on public health topics such as gentrification, cancer, child brain development and maternal mortality. Woldeselassie said he hopes to become a data scientist or get involved in analytics.

In the meantime, he’s serving as the assistant transition coordinator for Mason’s Office of Military Services, said Director Jennifer Connors.

“Red’s contributions to student veteran success extends far beyond the campus community,” Connors said. “He is an active voice on the national stage, both in his academic research and advocacy for student veterans. We are lucky to have him!”

This wasn’t exactly the path Woldeselassie envisioned while in high school, but he says he’d have it no other way.

“There are steps to everything,” he said. “You can’t skip steps. If you skip steps, then you may miss the lesson.”