From the Navy to UMSL: Benjamin Ebert’s eclectic journey through higher education

by | Jan 10, 2022

The Navy veteran and single dad is pursuing bachelor's and master's degrees in criminology and criminal justice and a bachelor's in anthropology.
Benjamin Ebert stands in the UMSL Veteran's Center

Navy veteran and single dad Benjamin Ebert is on track to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice through the BS and MA Dual Degree Program and also earn a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Benjamin Ebert’s eclectic background and interests are the ingredients of an engaging biography.

Long before he started studying criminology and criminal justice and anthropology at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, he’d spent 20 years traveling the world and serving in the U.S. Navy. He traded it for being a single dad and a full-time student, who recently and serendipitously stumbled into an internship at a museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri that will display the recently discovered remnants of a previously unknown dinosaur species, Parrosaurus missourienisis.

It’s left a lot on his plate, but adding in his culinary interests, full plates are what Ebert likes.

Ebert joined the Navy right out of high school.

“I’ve wanted to go into the military since I was in middle school, ” he said. “So, college never entered my mind. I did not like school at all. I was a very active, energetic teen, and school bored me. I grew up in the ’80s, a time of the Cold War and G.I. Joe.”

Growing up Ebert was taught to love his country by his family and church community and was determined to serve. His time in the Navy was spent doing intelligence work – maintaining sonar equipment, anti-submarine warfare and oceanography – and he became a security specialist, focusing on counter-piracy, maritime terrorism and international policing.

Ebert traveled to every continent but Antarctica and lived in Japan and England for three years each. Though he enjoyed his work, an unexpected turn of events led to his retirement.

He became a single father, and with a young son, Anthony, to care for, remaining in the military was no longer viable.

“I was like, ‘I can’t stay anymore. I can’t deploy. What am I going to do with my kid when I’m gone?’” Ebert said. “I thought I’ll just move back home where family is. It was always my goal to retire here.”

Another goal was to go to college. Ebert realized the lack of mobility people have without a college degree while he was in the Navy, but he also wanted to pursue higher education to be an example to his family and peers.

He retired on July 31, 2017, enrolled in community college the next month and has been going to school ever since.

Ebert sought an education that was in alignment with his cultural interests.

“I wanted to go to school for culinary anthropology, as culinary anthropologists study food,” he said. “That field is so small. There was nowhere really to go to school for it.”

So, Ebert created his own path.

He went to Jefferson College and earned an associate degree in criminology and a certificate in culinary arts while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. He also took advantage of a three-week cultural education excursion.

“I got to go to South Africa and study apartheid and international diplomacy at the University of Johannesburg and the University of KwaZulu-atal,” he said.

After finishing up at Jefferson College, he wanted to pursue bachelor’s degrees.

Ebert’s global experiences impacted his educational choices. He’s loved his opportunities to travel and observe and immerse himself in different cultures. He has a great interest in people, behavior and cultural traditions. Finding the right educational fit wasn’t easy. Ebert’s ability to shape his own education was just one of the factors that led him to the UMSL.

“I investigated Lindenwood, UMSL and Missouri Baptist,” he said. “Neither Lindenwood nor Missouri Baptist was honoring the Missouri Returning Heroes Act, so I ended up applying to UMSL. UMSL was rated in the top 10 schools in the nation for its criminal justice programs. They also taught anthropology. I wanted to pursue a double major. I wanted to continue education in criminology and criminal justice for a Bachelor of Science and receive a bachelor’s in anthropology. This school was a great pick since they offered both programs. UMSL also attracted me since they had a dedicated office for incoming veterans.”

Military Times has ranked UMSL first in Missouri and No. 37 nationally for its support of student veterans. That dedication to veterans not only appealed to him but also inspired him. Ebert joined UMSL’s efforts to support veterans by volunteering in the Veterans Center, where he helps other vets get information about the university and its offerings.

He’s well-positioned to assist others with questions, as his own academic pursuits are vast. In addition to volunteering at the Veterans Center, Ebert balances his internship at the brand new Sainte Genevieve Museum Learning Center, where he gives tours and assists with cataloging displays.

Ebert was looking for an internship that engaged yet another one of his interests: paleontology. A Google search pointed him to five organizations that matched. He interviewed with Guy Darrough, the Sainte Genevieve Museum Learning Center’s curator, who hired him to work that day giving tours.

Knowing nothing about the space or exhibits, Ebert did his best, and he has been interning there ever since. Little did he know he’d landed at a museum that would garner international attention for housing the findings of a newly discovered species of dinosaur.

One may wonder how Ebert balances the demands of school, volunteer work and raising his son, Anthony. It has its challenges, but he’s content with what others may deem sacrifices.

“Being a father is a blessing,” Ebert said. “It has made me a better man. Single dad life at school means that I do miss some campus things at UMSL since I must come home, clean, cook meals and so on.”

To make his and his son’s life manageable, he relies on an efficient system of organization.

“I have a lot of alarms set on my phone,” he said. “Every semester I reprogram my phone around my son’s school, my mom’s work schedule and my class schedule. My life is extremely organized. The only problem with this is that when one thing gets messed up the system can get difficult since there is little wiggle room around for unplanned events. Sundays are usually my homework and catch-up day for the week.”

With a loaded schedule, Ebert does allow for downtime.

“I observe the Shabbat from Friday night till Saturday night, so I will not do any work for a day,” he said. “This lets me recharge for another week of demanding work.”

And all of the hard work will pay off.

As he heads into his final semester, Ebert is slated to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology and criminal justice through the BS and MA Dual Degree Program and will also add a degree in anthropology. He is also minoring in global health, social medicines and military history.

Ebert has enjoyed his time at UMSL and looks forward to being featured in the next Chancellor’s Council meeting in February.

He also eagerly recommends the university to others considering attending.

“This is the best monetary value for your education,” he said. “UMSL is part of the University of Missouri System, so starting local, if you live in the St. Louis area is great.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd