PCastleA natural-born teacher, Phil Castle ’11 has taken his leadership skills from a battlefield in the Middle East back to the States as an electronic medical records training professional.

Philip Castle, 41, is one of Saint Joseph’s longest-attending students. Between a bachelor’s degree in education, which he completed in 2011, and the master’s degree in adult education and training that he’s currently working on, Castle has spent a decade at the school.

But while he may be a familiar name to his professors, they wouldn’t recognize his face: Castle, a distance-learning student who now lives in Tacoma, Wash., has never set foot in a classroom on campus.

Castle has participated in Saint Joseph’s online degree programs from all over the world: Hawaii, Washington and even the deserts of Iraq. Recently retired from the military, he served in the Army for 22 years, eventually rising to the rank of sergeant.

“Saint Joe’s was the most flexible college that I’ve been to in terms of interacting with the college, and the flexibility and availability of resources,” he says. “No matter where I was, I was able to work on my degree – even in the middle of the desert in Iraq.”

Castle started his college journey right out of high school, but it took him a lot longer to reach the finish line.

“After high school, I went to University of New Hampshire, but I only lasted a semester. My priorities weren’t in the right place, and I didn’t really realize how important education was.”

He opted to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the military, and became an Army Reservist, then went into active duty the following year. “It didn’t take me long to realize I’d made a mistake by not going to college,” he says. “I had to work my way up through the ranks. It made me grow up and understand the value that education has.”

In his mid-twenties, Castle decided it was time for him to hit the books and enrolled in an online associate’s degree program. While it could be difficult to find the time to study and to motivate himself to complete the program without the social pressure of a classroom environment, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” he says.

It obviously worked: He finished with a 4.0 GPA. “That made me realize I can actually do this,” he says.

Emboldened by his positive experience, he enrolled in the online bachelor’s program in education several years later. It was difficult to find the time to study while on active deployment, but Castle made his education a priority – and when he rose to a leadership role, he made sure that his own troops did, too.

“You have to be willing to give up your time, but the leaders above you help you make that time,” says Castle.

“When I became a sergeant, I forced my own soldiers in Iraq to enroll in online college programs. Whenever they had any free time, instead of getting homesick or worrying about things, they were busy studying. A lot of them have degrees now and are moving forward with their education.”

Before his current role as training manager for Franciscan Medical Systems in Washington state, Phil Castle spent 22 years in the Army. In this 2010 photo, he’s traveling through Baquba, Iraq.

Training others has long been Castle’s passion: While serving in the Army in Hawaii, he was tasked with training instructors for the Army’s leadership program, which was called the Non-Commissioned Officer Education System (NCOES).

“I love teaching and training, and I knew where I wanted to focus my career,” he says.

Castle opted to pursue the degrees from Saint Joseph’s to help him gain a foothold in that field in the civilian world. Since retiring from the service, he now works as the training manager for Franciscan Medical Systems in Tacoma, where he helps employees learn to use the hospital system’s electronic medical records program.

Castle is one-third of the way through his master’s degree, which he’s balancing with his full-time job. Eventually, he hopes to become an administrative director.

Although he claims that he isn’t likely to pursue any further degrees once he finishes his master’s, there is still a chance that Castle might meet his Saint Joseph’s professors face-to-face one day.

As it turns out, his parents live just a couple of miles from the school. When Castle travels to Maine to visit them, he’s gone jogging on the campus every time.

“It always seems to be when the campus is closed for the semester, but one of these days I hope that I’ll have a chance to meet them so they can put a face to my name.”

by Kathryn Hawkins