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Humans of UWW: Meet John Simbajon

Dec 09, 2022

Thirty-eight-year-old UWW alumnus John Nicholai Noval Simbajon '21 is a father and a veteran, and now has a brand-new job as a passport specialist. First Generation in multiple ways, John lives in Medford, Massachusetts, and was born in Tagbilaran City, capital of the province of Bohol, Philippines. He has served in multiple branches of the military, moving from the Army to the Air Force before finishing his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in health administration. One of his most memorable life experiences was his two-year deployment in Kosovo (pictured below), during which the republic declared its independence on February 17, 2008.

Every adult student has a story. What’s your story?

Long story short, I immigrated to the U.S. in 1993 from the Philippines. I was only 8 years old, and my parents were educated, but didn't know the process in the U.S. and its many options with thousands of colleges. I had good grades as expected by my parents, but was completely lost on my future until September 11, 2001 happened. I was a junior in high school and joined the Army as a delayed entry candidate. Then my career in the Army started, then Army Guard, and currently Air Force Reserves, retiring June 2023, after almost 23 years of service. Throughout this process, I accumulated hundreds of college credits but no degree to call my own. UWW helped me efficiently attain my baccalaureate degree by accepting the maximum 75 credits allowed, earning 15 credits through my prior learning portfolio, and finishing various credits needed for my degree.

How did finishing your degree through the University Without Walls at UMass Amherst change your life?

Physical therapist assistant was a great job to have, especially being a career combat job veteran. I didn't know what to do after my military career, but UWW helped me achieve something greater than what I would have thought to attain as an adult learner. Once I earned my bachelor's degree along with my Department of Defense security clearance, my path to a new career took off. In less than two years post-graduation, I was offered a job at the Department of State as a passport specialist. Continuing service to country as a civilian is something I never would have thought possible, especially helping other immigrants being naturalized like myself.

Talk about a professor who's made a difference in your life.

Professor Modenos goes above and beyond just your average advisor. She listened to my goals of an efficient and achievable bachelor's degree from my 200 credits I've earned in my military career. A concentration in health administration was the easiest path. With my prior learning portfolio, she helped me realize how much I actually learned with all my deployments, especially NATO and UN/UNESCO missions. What I learned automatically in a leadership position in the Army was beyond or equal to collegiate-level learning in crisis management and cross-cultural communication. Experiential learning is essential to becoming a whole, learned individual, something I didn't know I was doing reflexively being in the military.


*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the person being featured and do not necessarily reflect those of the University.