|From Afghanistan to Graduation|
Her final semester was a busy, tough one for Civil and Environmental Engineering senior Misty Last, but it was pretty much indicative of her whole college career, which also included two tours of Afghanistan and having a baby. When she did graduate in May, though, she didn’t do any slowing down.
With just a high school equivalency degree, Misty was delivering pizzas and working odd jobs in 2001. It was then, on the advice of her brother, that she joined the Army National Guard. Her position in the Army Guard was eliminated, and she transferred to the North Carolina Air National Guard unit as an Electrical and Environmental Systems Technician.
“I worked on the electrical systems, including the integrated control systems for the aircraft,” Misty said. “The integrated control monitors and controls all the plane’s electrical systems, including power distribution, flight control surfaces, fire-control systems and such. I also maintained the plane’s pressurization systems and climate control.”
Misty’s experience in the Guard showed her that to get somewhere in life, she was going to need education. “I was delivering pizzas and knew I had to get a degree and get out of that,” she said. “Engineering was something I could do and had an interest in.”
Misty started studies at Central Piedmont Community College in 2004. She continued working during that time, and served several short-term deployments. In 2006, she and her husband Nick had a baby girl - Hannah.
Misty’s first deployment to Afghanistan was in 2007. She was stationed at Bagram Air Field for three months. “The first deployment wasn’t bad,” she said. “The base was secure, and we were able to do our work without any incidents.”
In 2008, Misty came to UNC Charlotte. “From my experience in the military I knew I wanted to do Civil Engineering,” she said. “I had learned a lot about electrical things in the Guard, but I was really more interested in structures.”
During her Lee College of Engineering studies, Misty did another three-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. “The second trip was a bit more intense than the first,” she said. “Fighting around the base was getting hot and we had to do some bunker diving (an alarm sounds that the base is under attack and you need to take shelter). For the first time, I had to have a plan in my head as to how I would defend myself and those around me.”
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Misty also had to do a mid-semester deployment, working on planes that were making supply runs out of Puerto Rico.
“I was in Dr. Young’s class when I got sent to Haiti,” Misty said. “He was very supportive and said not to worry that we could come up with a plan for me to make up the class work.”
Misty said the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department was great in working with her through all of her deployments. “My advisor was Tammy DiSabatino and she has a son in the Marines, so I think she had a soft spot in her heart for me.”
Dr. David Young, chairman of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said he admires Misty’s dedication to her studies, and her persistence makes her a wonderful example for other students. “She has had a very challenging situation,” he said, “but she set goals for her life and she has stayed focused on them. Her willingness to work hard to accomplish her goals makes it a privilege to advise and help her.”
Misty was very much looking forward to graduation, but had no thoughts of slowing up once she got her bachelor’s degree. She plans to begin graduate school, and would like to get an engineering job, but that might be tough since later this year she will probably be heading back to Afghanistan for another deployment, this time for at least six months.
On the military side of things Misty plans to become a commissioned officer and eventually gain a position as a design engineer within the Civil Engineering Squadron at her base.
“It has all been hard, but it has shown me I can handle more than I thought I could,” Misty said. “I can work hard and I can succeed.”
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