This longtime Bama fan decided on a mid-career pivot. Here’s how he did it.

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Recently, Rich attained a new role at Beyond Gravity in North Alabama. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

By 2015, Florida native Rich Welch had already accomplished a lot. After leaving the Navy, Rich worked for General Atomic Aeronautical Systems, helping build Predator drones for over 19 years and completing numerous technical certifications. Along the way, he met his wife, Heather, had two children and still found the time to pursue his passions: fishing and golfing. However, there was one thing that Rich had yet to accomplish: graduating from college with a degree.

How do you pursue a degree while working full-time? With an online degree from UA Online, of course.

Since childhood, Rich Welch has understood the importance of education

Born in Marianna, Florida, Rich Welch traveled the country in his formative years with his mother, father and seven siblings. Growing up, Rich’s dad—a civil engineer—had a number of different jobs around the country, which meant Rich attended high school in several states. After high school, Rich joined the Navy and eventually wound up in San Diego, where he met his wife, Heather. The couple settled down on the West Coast and began raising their two children.

For the better part of two decades, Rich worked with General Atomic Aeronautical Systems—a contractor that designs and manufactures complex unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and radar systems for the military. Although he was able to complete all the certifications he needed for his job, Rich always knew he wanted to attend college one day.

“My dad drove education pretty hard in my family and taught us all that it was the right thing to do. I grew up watching the struggles that my dad had raising our family, and I knew I needed to prioritize my education, but life just got in the way. At General Atomic, I had a really great manager who sat me down and talked to me about going back to school. He said, ‘Look, you’ve got all the experience you need; now go get the degree.’ But between my work, raising my kids, playing golf and fishing, I just didn’t think I had the time.”

Rich Welch

Want to pursue a college degree, but don’t have time to attend classes on-campus? Click here to learn more about opportunities with UA Online.

In 2015, Rich saw a commercial that changed his life

Rich Welch
Rich in his graduation attire in UA’s Paul W. Bryant Museum. (Rich Welch)

In July 2015, Rich saw a commercial for UA Online—The University of Alabama’s immersive online degree program—while watching football on the SEC Network. Immediately, he was sold.

“I made the phone call right there and officially enrolled in classes a few weeks later. I am a hardcore Crimson Tide fan, so there wasn’t anywhere else I was even considering for schooling. I was nervous at first, but as the first semester progressed I became more and more confident that I had made the right decision. My daughter was starting high school around the same time, so I set a goal for myself: I aimed to finish my college education before my daughter and my goal was to graduate with a great GPA—I was not going to leave without attaining that goal.”

Rich Welch

Leaning back on the discipline he learned from his Navy days, Rich put in the time and effort to succeed. With the flexibility of the UA Online program, he was able to listen to lectures while driving to and from fishing trips, golf tournaments and work. Although Rich took his courses online—from as far away as California—he made an effort to visit campus when he could.

“When I visited The University of Alabama campus for the first time, I got to grab lunch with some of my advisors and it was as if I had known them for years. The connection was just there instantly. I have professors that shared their personal cell numbers with us and stay in touch to see how we’re doing. Even the lady who answered my call in 2015 and began my enrollment process came out to meet me the night before graduation. That says so much about the culture at UA—it truly is a family environment.”

Rich Welch

Does Rich’s story sound familiar to your life? Click here to learn more about the UA Online program.

Post-Grad Life

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Rich Welch, a recent graduate of the UA Online program. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

In the final years of his education with UA Online, Rich landed a new job with RUAG Space USA, Inc., now rebranded as Beyond Gravity. With offices in in Morgan County, Alabama, Beyond Gravity is a space-focused company that even collaborated on the James Webb Space Telescope launch last year.

“Although I got this job before I finished my degree, I don’t think I would have even been looked at without it. Employers recognize the program, the leadership and the skill set I developed while pursuing my degree. UA Online opened up a ton of doors and new opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Rich Welch

As for his degree? Rich graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Business Administration from The University of Alabama in 2021—and yes, he attained his goal of graduating with a 3.98 GPA.

Want to learn more about studying with UA Online? Click here to visit their website and begin your application process.

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Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer with Bham Now | Originally from Tennessee, Nathan moved to The Magic City after graduating from Birmingham-Southern College. Nathan is passionate about recognizing Birmingham's history and is thrilled to learn more about the big things planned for The Magic City's future.

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