Graduate persists through five overseas deployments

An interruption in a student’s college career is not unusual. Annabel Ortega, however, has persisted through five of them.
Ortega joined the National Guard as an army operations and administration specialist, in part, to help pay for college.
Since 2000, she has been deployed overseas five times, including an 18-month assignment in Iraq. “The good thing is that I’m alive and I have no lasting injuries,” Ortega says.

Advisor Brenda Sallee, left, helped Annael Ortega through her time as a soldier. (photo: Jim Folts)

Advisor Brenda Sallee, left, helped Annael Ortega through her time as a soldier. (photo: Jim Folts)

At the beginning of her undergraduate career, Ortega saw many instructors for advice and direction, but her relationship with Brenda Sallee, head advisor in the College of Business, is the one that stuck.
Throughout Ortega’s deployments, Sallee kept in constant contact. The situation, however, forced the mentor-student relationship to take-on a unique shape.

“It’s been hard, but helpful to have that one person who cared for you,” Ortega says. “Without Brenda, I might not have stayed in college.”

Sallee offered Ortega encouragement and helped coordinate Ortega’s schedule of classes in order to complete her international business degree. However, because all communication had to be done through e-mail, waiting for a response sometimes required patience.

“Advising is not easy in this situation,” Sallee says. “You have to be a lot more explicit, because what you may be able to accomplish in 15 minutes face-to-face could take three or four e-mails.”

Having graduated in 2008, Ortega settles into the life of a newlywed and has dreams of children. She envisions a career in Seattle working for the federal government or at an international business firm.

With three languages already under her belt —Spanish, English and Arabic — and a completed business degree, her future looks bright.

Ortega has also been a constant reminder and inspiration to Sallee. “Times are different than when I went to school,” Sallee says. “There are more issues that students have to deal with, and it’s good to remember that a student isn’t just a student — they have other concerns, too. As a mentor, you have to be open- minded toward those things.”

~ Tara Pistorese

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