Menu

Balancing military service, marriage, grad school: Two Army majors pick Tech to advance their careers

Friday, February 17, 2017

By Brian Gentry, Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education

Marc and Kate Sanborn are working on doctorates in civil engineering with Lauren Stewart. The couple, married since 2012, are majors in the U.S. Army and need advanced degrees to continue their careers teaching at the U.S. Military Academy. (Photo: Missy Jurick)
Marc and Kate Sanborn are working on doctorates in civil engineering with Lauren Stewart. The couple, married since 2012, are majors in the U.S. Army and need advanced degrees to continue their careers teaching at the U.S. Military Academy. (Photo: Missy Jurick)

Marc and Kate Sanborn are no strangers to building things.

They built a marriage together. They built their Army careers to Majors together. And now they’re building upon their graduate degrees at Georgia Tech.

“Our personal lives had been put on hold for eight years, as I was commissioned in June 2001 and Kate was commissioned in June 2002. We deployed during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts,” Marc said.  “It was only when we got through graduate school that we could stop to catch our breath and find someone.”

In the summer of 2010, the two started teaching at the U.S. Military Academy.

“Since I’d earned my bachelor’s in 2002 and was commissioned, I never really slowed down,” Kate said. “It was a surprise that we found each other at West Point, but I wasn’t going to let the chance to date Marc pass by.”

And the two married in November 2012.

To become senior instructors at West Point, the Marc and Kate needed to earn Ph.D.s. Since Marc earned his master’s in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in 2010, the university seemed like a natural fit. (Kate earned her master’s in 2010 in civil engineering from the University of Vermont.)

“We needed a school with a civil engineering program that was big enough for both of us to do two different things and one with a strong graduate engineering program,” Kate said. “Since Marc was familiar with the campus, it made sense to come here.”

Read on to learn more about how the couple has acclimated to life at Tech since arriving in the fall of 2015.

What do you enjoy most about being at Tech?

For Kate, it is the experimental portions of her research. She’s been working on testing the support strength of cross-laminated timbers, which could be useful for rapid construction in military relief efforts.

“It’s amazing to study and research on a specific topic and hopefully bring something to the field that no one else has before,” Kate said. “I’m looking forward to teaching what I learn about the materials and research methods to cadets back at West Point.”

Aside from the research opportunities, Marc enjoys working with Lauren Stewart, his adviser and an assistant professor in civil engineering. He’s hoping to draw upon her expertise and his own research to teach a course on blast-resistant materials when he returns to West Point. Marc also wants to create a research collaboration with the Department of Defense and Army researchers to create stronger defenses (such as bunkers and barracks) and housing.

“It’s amazing to study and research on a specific topic and hopefully bring something to the field that no one else has before. I’m looking forward to teaching what I learn about the materials and research methods to cadets back at West Point.”

– Army Maj. Kate Sanborn, a Ph.D. student in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
along with her husband, Army Maj. Marc Sanborn
 
What has been most the most challenging part of your time at Tech, and how have you dealt with it?

“The qualifying exam,” Marc said.  

While earning his master’s, Marc completed most of the structural engineering classes needed for his Ph.D. However, not being a student for five years made studying for the complex exam difficult.

“I’d taught classes in civil engineering at West Point, but they’d been introductory courses,” he said. “My advanced skills had atrophied, and it was difficult to get up to speed to pass the exam. It took a lot of studying to relearn all the material I’d forgotten and the new additions to the field.”

“The course load has been tough,” Kate said. “The transition from everyday army life and the jobs we were doing required a significant shift in lifestyle.”

For example, the stress levels are much lower — Kate said she has less work-related responsibility. In her last assignment at Fort Bragg, she oversaw the facilities management of a Special Forces group. Now her days are filled with research and coursework.

“Tech is a challenging school, and the mindset change has been difficult,” Kate said. “Now, I just need to keep myself on track and manage my time; it’s a welcome change of pace.”

What do you enjoy most about living in Atlanta?

The two agree that they love being able to run outside year-round, thanks to the nice weather. In addition, living close to a major airport such as Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport has made it easier to travel.

“Now that we have time, we were able to visit Ireland last fall,” Marc said. “And being near the airport made it easy to visit one of our friends for his promotion ceremony in Washington D.C. much easier.”

What advice do you have for graduate students who are veterans at Tech?

Take advantage of the resources offered for military couples or veterans, Marc said. For example, he thinks that the Student Veteran’s Association is very helpful.

“There are more resources out there than you’d think, and the association is a good starting point for connecting with them,” Marc added.

Kate noted that the shift from military life to civilian living allows for more free time and urges others to take advantage of this.

“When you’re coming from the military, you learn to take advantage of breaks,” she said. “That’s just as important in college as it is on duty to avoid burnout.”