They decided to go back to college online together, they leaned on each other for support, and now they will graduate together.
Husband and wife Sylvester Fernandez de Castro and Marian Viera Fuentes spent the past two years encouraging one another to get to graduation day as they balanced work, being locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, and rescheduling their wedding three times.
The couple lives in England, where Fernandez de Castro is stationed with the U.S. Air Force, and will graduate in May with degrees from Penn State they earned online through Penn State World Campus.
“Marian was my No. 1 support, and I was hers,” Fernandez de Castro said. “We went in assuming and hoping we could get a quality education, and it’s 100% paid off. The program has paid itself dividends.”
Going back to school at the same time
The two had different reasons for returning to college.
Fernandez de Castro, a logistics officer in the Air Force, went into active-duty service after he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2013. He had been considering pursuing a master's degree for years, with the goal of enhancing his employment opportunities while serving in the military and facilitating his transition to the civilian sector after retirement. When he returned from a deployment to Iraq in 2021, he decided it was time to take that next step.
Viera Fuentes, who is from Spain and met Fernandez de Castro there on a previous duty assignment, already had a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from a university in Seville. In 2018, she and Fernandez de Castro moved to the U.S. for his change of duty, but she found she could not use her degree outside of her country. That is when she realized she would have to go back to school to get a new degree.
They narrowed their choices down to Penn State online.
Fernandez de Castro was accepted to the Master of Supply Chain Management program, which is one of the online business degree programs that is offered by the internationally recognized Penn State Smeal College of Business. Viera Fuentes was accepted to the Bachelor of Science in Economics program, which is offered online by the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State.
The admission letters are in frames.
“For me, it was like a dream,” Viera Fuentes said.
“I know Penn State and the alumni network will be a huge aid in the transition from the military to the civilian world,” Fernandez de Castro said. “To us, Penn State is a big deal.”
Thriving as online learners
Viera Fuentes was used to the Spanish higher education system, which relies on memorization, but in her Penn State degree program, she encountered something different: “You learn the concepts and then you apply them in real situations and scenarios,” she said.
While she was acclimating to a new style of learning, she was also learning and applying English in ways she had not used in the past. That impressed her husband.
“I came in one day, and I saw her working on two computers,” he said. “She was translating — not only is she reading and translating and trying to understand the references, she’s doing that every single day in this class.”
Fernandez de Castro took two courses per semester while working at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford, which serves as a forward operating location for U.S. bomber and NATO aircraft. In 2022, he traveled extensively for work, to destinations such as Italy and Texas, and was recognized as the 422nd Air Base Group Company Grade Officer of the Year.
He said he was able to put his course work into practice by optimizing how the base receives B-1, B-2, and B-52 bomber aircraft.
“The supply chain lessons directly enabled my team to perform Agile Combat Employment (ACE) exercises during 2021–2022 alongside Bomber Task Force real-world missions,” he said. “This has made RAF Fairford a major power projection base for the European theater.”
Viera Fuentes said her husband goes “above and beyond,” and she always tries to learn from him.
“He is not just a great professional, but an incredible person that has guided me to be where I am today.”
Viera Fuentes has been accepted into an in-residence graduate program at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, where she intends to combine her economics degree with business analytics. She is scheduled to begin the program in June.
Fernandez de Castro expects to start a second master’s program, in international affairs, this summer. Following his change of duty station in 2024, he aspires to serve as a Foreign Affairs Officer, representing the U.S. and working at embassies around the world.
Viera Fuentes and Fernandez de Castro will not be able to attend commencement because of work commitments, but they were able to visit the Penn State University Park campus in January, at the beginning of the semester.
As new Penn State grads, they plan on taking their delayed honeymoon.
Learn more about the more than 175 degree and certificate programs offered online through Penn State World Campus.