After building a career in information technology on the East Coast, veteran Lisa Cronican ’22 returned to Los Angeles to fulfill a lifelong goal: completing her Oxy bachelor’s degree after a 25-year hiatus.
Prior to enrolling at Oxy in 1993, Cronican served in the U.S. Air Force for four years, during which she was stationed in San Vito, Italy. She specialized in electronics and repaired microwave radio transceivers, a field that later merged with satellite communications.
“When I joined the Air Force, I actually wanted to pursue a job that women weren't traditionally in,” she says. “They had just opened up the field that I was in to women, so I definitely felt a bit like a fish out of water.”
After returning home, Cronican set her sights on enrolling in college, building upon past courses she had completed at the University of Maryland's extension program and Palomar Community College in Escondido, CA. When a friend loaned her an Oxy brochure, she was drawn to the small, immersive campus, complex course offerings and diversity.
“I was a young single parent at the time with limited financial means,” she says. “At first, Occidental seemed like something that would be out of reach for me, but they had a great scholarship program, so I felt very privileged to come.”
Guided by a passion for politics, her favorite courses were “Theories of Tyranny” with Professor Roger Boesche and “Arms Control and National Security” with Professor Larry Caldwell.
In her senior year, family hardships paused Cronican’s college career. She moved to the East Coast, where she spent the next 25 years raising her son, kickstarting a career in IT and meeting her partner.
“I had to adapt and figure out how to create a meaningful life in a way that was different than I had envisioned,” she says. “I really wasn't sure how I would ever make it back to California—to graduate seemed like a far-off goal.”
She leveraged her Air Force experience to build a career in IT, which later transformed into a position as a management consultant with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There, she works with clients on IT governance, strategy and portfolio management.
“Honestly, I feel like it's a testament to the education I received at Occidental, that even though I didn't have my degree, I've been able to work closely with clients who have advanced degrees. So my education served me very well.”
For Cronican, the critical thinking and writing abilities she gained at Oxy equipped her to skillfully navigate the complexities of the CDC. Her Oxy education gave her a genuine curiosity for identifying needs and solving problems: "When you're working with clients across a diverse range of specialties, you have to quickly gain knowledge on what they do so you can recommend tailored methods for selecting IT products and services aligned with their unique goals.
In early 2022, Cronican realized that she had an opportunity to make a dramatic change and return to school. Thanks to a coordinated effort between the College’s offices and a part-time arrangement with her employer, she was able to move back to Los Angeles to complete the few remaining courses for her degree.
“My partner would listen to my calls with the dean's office, the registrar and the business office, and he said, ‘You've spoken to Occidental more times in the last month than I spoke to my school the entire four years I went,’” she says. “Once I reached out to Occidental about coming back, they bent over backwards to work with me.”
For Cronican, “the Veterans Program has been phenomenal. They don't just meet my practical needs; they've actually made this an amazing experience.”
While some staples of her ’90s college experience are long gone—microfiche, blue books and “90210”—she says “in some ways, it doesn't look that different at all.” Now, her Oxy experience is punctuated with sunny walks, foodie trips to local restaurants and a newfound appreciation for the Green Bean’s iced coffee.
“It's been one of the highlights of my life. This was a bucket list item, to come back and finish my degree, and to do it in a way where I'm actually able to pause and enjoy the surroundings, enjoy the educational experience,” she says. “I am very excited about walking at graduation. That's going to be enormous.”
And what's next? Cronican is considering graduate school and a master of public health (MPH) degree.
“I realized I'm not ready for this experience to end come December.”