Alum commuted for track while working on degree as an adult
Release Date: March 7, 2009
SAN ANTONIO – For working adults who are pursuing their education, the journey to the diploma can seem like a series of hurdles and long-distance races. For Rob C. Thomas II, that analogy was a reality.
The son of a miner from Montana, Thomas said he never envisioned college since he didn’t enjoy school that much as a young man. Once he graduated high school, he joined the military, even though his father kept encouraging him to pursue higher education.
“Not everyone is born to love education,” he said. “I was one of those folks. Just the thought of sitting through more years of classes didn’t go over well with me.”
Thomas said he attended schools occasionally while in the military but really didn’t
have a heart to finish the degree. After
leaving the military, he went to work in civil service for the Air Force and began moving to different locations. While stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Thomas had two experiences that changed his mind.
“I’d been moving up the ladder in my career, but the Air Force told me they could promote me no more without a degree,” he said. “I saw an ad for Wayland Baptist in the base newspaper and the light came on. I could, as a Baptist, go to a Baptist college and get a degree. All of a sudden I became excited about going to college.”
Thomas visited the San Antonio campus advisers, got a plan in place and started going full-time toward the degree. Since he had a fulfilling, established career in the information technology field, Thomas chose that naturally as his major. He was excited to be able to study the Bible as well in the required religion courses.
Unlike most adult students who forego the “traditional” experience of dorms, athletics and cafeteria food, Thomas had a strong tie to the home campus in Plainview. A lifelong runner, he had an interest in running track for Wayland. He set out to inquire about the possibility.
“The coach wanted to try it out, but the athletic director originally said no,” he recalls. “Then an article came out about a nurse from Dallas who was running for Baylor and they called me back to suggest we try as well.”
Thomas ended up commuting from South Texas for weekend track meets, putting in long hours on the road so he could run the long-distance races for Wayland. He competed in the 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters races and was the primary marathoner for the school, running cross country as well.
Looking back now, Thomas realizes the juggling act was tiresome, but enjoyable. That arrangement helped him fulfill two dreams.
“One of my dreams was always to be in college athletics, even though the thought of sitting in classes didn’t appeal to me,” he laughs, adding that the degree earned in 1992 made more dreams come true. “I was told I could achieve much in civil service, but when you come from a small town of 200 people in Western Montana, you don’t have the same confidence. I never dreamed I’d achieve the highest level of government service by age 40. I never saw myself going that high and I really didn’t have the confidence to do it.”
But others believed in him, and the good grades and mentorship he received at Wayland opened Thomas’ eyes to the new horizons available to him. He immediately began moving higher up the career ladder and now is at the equivalent of a three-star general with the Air Force Senior Executive Service as executive director of the Air Force Personnel Center based in San Antonio.
Before reaching that pinnacle, Thomas moved to Colorado, then Montana and back to Colorado, then worked in Washington, D.C. with U.S. Customs, the Department of Treasury and the Department of the Air Force at the Pentagon, where he was employed when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred.
Thomas and his family lived through a stressful time as the nation’s security was at it’s highest following the bombing and in the months to come as the anthrax scare and then the sniper crisis hit the area.
“It was surreal in so many ways, just so stressful that I only remember it now in flashes,” he recalls. “It was almost like the poem ‘Footprints in the Sand’ where I was being carried. To say it was stressful is the biggest understatement.”
Today, Thomas is grateful for surviving those hard times and is thankful to be where he is now, in a successful and rewarding career serving his country.
“I thank God over and over for blessing me greatly. I know if I hadn’t got the degree, I would have stayed in that job at that rating and finally retired,” he said. “But I truly couldn’t have done it myself. All credit is God’s and His alone. God provided the pathway, and I had to go through those doors He opened for me. When you want it and God wants it for you, it’s going to happen.”