A photo of a woman from the waist up. She is resting one arm on a railing and smiling.
Attending college at the same time as her son, Thomasine Isler was determined to be a good role model by maintaining a high GPA. This semester, she graduated as a straight-A student. (Thomas Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2024: Model student, military veteran and mom Thomasine Isler walked a long path to graduation

Business student gets to show off straight A’s to her children, and she will pursue her master’s degree at VCU, too.

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If Thomasine Isler’s 20-year-old son brings home a bad grade in one of his college courses, she has a rare card to play. As a full-time student herself at Virginia Commonwealth University, Isler is earning straight A’s.

“He had one C his first semester of freshman year,” Isler said of her son, a rising junior studying cybersecurity. “So of course, I was able to back up my argument [for good grades] with my straight A’s. I was able to get in his blood a little bit.”

This month, Isler, 43, graduates with honors from the VCU School of Business after a long career in the military.

“Having the opportunity to graduate just a couple years earlier than my son gives me that sense of pride and accomplishment,” she said. “I was very, very hard on myself to maintain a high GPA because I wanted to show him how earning honors could have a positive impact on his future. So I’m proud of that. I’m excited that I’ll be able to graduate with honors, and he’ll be able to see that.”

That’s not to say that maintaining perfect grades has been easy. The first data analytics class she took “was really challenging,” Isler said. But her professor Shannon Harris, Ph.D., “was able to meet me where I was and helped me get through the class and still get my A.”

Isler credits her success to her supportive husband, a lot of late nights and her own imagination in keeping her 4-year-old daughter entertained while she studies. She also gets up around 5 a.m. every day to get in a couple of good hours of work before her daughter wakes up.

A Pennsylvania native, Isler was raised by a single mother, who had her at a very young age. Attending college wasn’t a given. But she found a way, by joining the Army in 2000 with a plan to serve her country and get funding for her college education.

“I was going to do four years and call it quits, but that led to 20 years,” Isler said. “So now, 20 years later, here I am finally finishing my degree. But throughout that time in the military, I was able to take a couple classes here and there. When I retired — as a senior supply sergeant — I attended a community college for a little while … and then transferred to Central Washington University.”

Wanting to return to the East Coast, Isler and her family “somehow ended up in Virginia.” She transferred to VCU in 2023 as a junior and was able to complete her degree in three semesters rather than four.

She plans to stay at VCU for her master’s degree and will continue working with professors such as David Berdish, who specializes in supply chain management and logistics.

“I’ve only had [Berdish] for one class, but he’s been a great mentor,” Isler said. “And he’s been great throughout my last couple months here at VCU.”

Though her time at VCU can be measured by just a few semesters, she embraces how her path to a college degree has been a long and meaningful pursuit.

“This has been over 25 years,” Isler said. “Graduating from college has been like a dream of mine. And, like I mentioned, joining the Army at 19 with the plans of just getting a college education was my initial intent, [not] a 20-year career. I’m happy and thankful to be graduating. It’s been an amazing journey. And I made some mistakes on the journey, but I’m just glad to be here and be able to say that I made it.”