Many students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have to work while going to school, but they usually don’t have worry about bombs going off or terrorists attacking them on the way to class. But that is the life of Teresa Smithson, who completed her entire Geospatial Surveying Engineering master’s degree, online, from the Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan.

“We have had mortars directly hit our compound and shred several of the housing units, including the room of one of my surveyors,” said Smithson. “A few months ago we were all told to stay indoors because there was a ground attack against the camp and several insurgents were on the base.”

Smithson is a civilian contractor, doing land surveying in parts of Southern and Western Afghanistan, supporting military efforts to close various camps there. While her family, including 4 grandchildren, lives in Colorado, Smithson says she bunks in what looks like a 20-foot shipping container with a doorway installed on the end.

“Some of these 63-square-foot rooms are shared by two people; I have the luxury of living alone in one,” said Smithson.

Prior to her three years in Afghanistan, Smithson worked in Baghdad, Iraq for 4 years and says that you have to adjust your definition of danger to your given situation because hazards are everywhere.

“You probably drive everyday on the freeway that goes through Corpus Christi without thinking about how dangerous it is,” said Smithson. “In February, more than 200 people died on Texas highways in just 6 weeks; more than died in all of the camps in Afghanistan during that period.”

Despite all of the potential dangers, Smithson says the biggest obstacle she had in earning her degree was having enough bandwidth for internet.

“Luckily, professors provided a link to downloadable versions of lectures,” said Smithson. “I would start downloads when I went to bed and watch them when I had time.”

The time difference was also a problem since Kandahar is 10 hours ahead of Corpus Christi time. Despite these difficulties, Smithson says she chose the Conrad Blucher Institute at the Island University for its unique program.

“It is difficult finding an online geospatial program that includes the land surveying component,” said Smithson. “Most of the programs are only geographic information systems and remote sensing, but the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s program had the land surveying component I was looking for.”

The Geospatial Surveying Engineering Master of Science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi provides students with knowledge and skills focusing on the research, design, development, and use of technologies in geospatial surveying engineering. The program builds upon the ABET-accredited undergraduate Geographic Information Science program (GISc) and the geographic information science concentration in the Master’s in Computer Science program. The program satisfies the regional, state and national need for master’s-level graduates in geospatial systems design and surveying engineering.

The fall commencement ceremony will be held at the American Bank Center on Saturday, December 21st at 10 a.m. Smithson’s name will be on the program that day, as a graduating master’s student, but she will receive her actual diploma by mail.