William Redden is still figuring out what to do with the extra hours he now has at his disposal.
The recent University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate began a new position working full-time in human resources at Patriot Machine, an aerospace company based in St. Charles, Missouri, the day before his commencement ceremony in December.
But adapting to a new work environment isn’t quite as hectic as juggling the responsibilities of school along with part- or full-time employment the way he did over several years while working toward his bachelor’s degree in history.
“I’ve been going to school since I was 4 years old without breaking points,” Redden said. “I want to see what life is like having free time for a year. I’ll hopefully enjoy it.”
At long last, he’s earned the chance to find out.
Redden knew nine years ago when he was finishing high school in Southeast Missouri that he wanted to earn a college degree. But financial realities forced him to delay that pursuit.
“In Southeast Missouri, there’s very little economic opportunity in general,” he said. “I knew I didn’t really have very many viable economic prospects down there. I was all set to go to Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, but then I started looking at how much money it would cost me, and I was really uncertain about what I wanted to do in the future at that point. I was afraid that I would get there, spend all this money and then end up panicking myself into something I didn’t necessarily want to do.”
Instead, he opted to enlist in the U.S. Army.
Redden had taken the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test on a whim so he could get out of Spanish class one day during his senior year. But he scored highly and soon after received a call from an Army recruiter.
“He said, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about joining the military?’” Redden said.
Until then, Redden had not. But he wound up receiving an offer to be an intelligence analyst, and it sounded appealing.
“I get a security clearance, get to do all this cool stuff, and I get to pay for college,” Redden recalled thinking.
He worked in all-source intelligence, providing analysis related to military actions, insurgent activities, economic and political activities and threats to regional stability to help inform counterterrorism operations. In that role, he became proficient in several geospatial-intelligence tools such as ArcGIS and Google Earth that would come in handy in the future.
Redden left active duty and initially returned to Southeast Missouri while continuing to work remotely toward an associate degree in applied science focused on intelligence operations studies at Cochise College in Sierra Vista.
He joined the Army National Guard and eventually took an affiliated position as a security assistant – receiving, reviewing and submitting requests for security clearances for civilian and military personnel. That brought him back to his home state, based in Jefferson City.
In April 2019, Redden moved to the St. Louis region when he landed a job as a full motion video intelligence analyst with CenCore, a government contractor that does work with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Redden was taking one or two classes each semester while back home in Missouri to make progress toward his bachelor’s degree, but a change in his job circumstances gave him the push he needed to enroll in college as a full-time student.
He decided to do so at UMSL in the Fall 2020 semester.
“For me, it was kind of the obvious choice,” said Redden, who pointed to the affordable cost, position of the university within the University of Missouri System and its location – 15 minutes from his home in St. Charles – as the biggest factors in his decision.
He found plenty of guidance and assistance in the Veterans Center when it came time to apply for his G.I. Bill benefits. The university has long been recognized for its support of military-connected students with Military Times ranking UMSL in the top 50 nationally on its “Best for Vets: Colleges” list each of the past seven years.
Redden also enjoyed the faculty members and the curriculum in the Department of History.
“I’ve taken a lot away from the professors on how to conduct historical research, the historical process, the ins and outs of what the modern field of history is,” he said. “I feel like it’s been very versatile. I’ve taken a lot of different courses that touch on a variety of topics, whether it be local St. Louis history, Black history. It just felt like a well-rounded historical experience.”
He particularly appreciated Teaching Professor Peter Acsay’s course in St. Louis history. It doubled as an opportunity to visit many of the city’s cultural and historic sites and helped him get better acquainted with the metropolitan area.
Redden connects his interest in history to his analyst work with the Army and NGA.
“Intelligence is about figuring out what you know, taking together all the clues – especially all-source intelligence,” he said. “We take together all the clues and try to come to a determination about what is going to happen. History is the same thing. It’s applying those same principles but to the past – taking multiple sources and trying to get a clearer picture of what happened.”
Redden spent his last semester as history honors society Phi Alpha Theta’s Student Government Association representative. He’s still considering one day returning to school to pursue a PhD in history. He had applied and had an interview for an internship at the National Archives.
But when Redden received his job offer at Patriot Machine, he didn’t want to pass it up. He liked the idea of spending at least a year away from the classroom and seeing how much he enjoys working in human resources in case he’d rather forgo the PhD in favor of a master’s in human resource management.
Finishing school, starting his job and getting engaged – as he did in mid-December – has the 26-year-old Redden suddenly feeling more like an adult than he ever had before.
But has a message for people his age thinking about pursuing a degree.
“It’s never too late to go back to go back and finish your education,” he said. “I started at UMSL when I was 24 or 25. I was a lot older than a typical undergrad anyways, and honestly, I never had any issues because of that. You can always you always go back to school.”