If anyone could be classified as a lifelong learner, it would be Rachael Barkie. With a bachelor’s in anthropology and a master’s in international relations already under her belt, she’s attending the University of Utah to earn another degree, this time in civil engineering.

Her learning also extends beyond formal education. Before the U, Barkie served in the U.S. Navy as an Arabic linguist for six years, climbing the ranks and finishing as a petty officer, first class. Her interest in the military grew from a childhood living on Navy bases. “I have a lot of sailors in the family,” she said, including both of her parents.

Specializing in Middle Eastern affairs during her military service taught Barkie firsthand a deeper sense of understanding, multiculturalism and compromise that pervades her worldview outside the Navy.

“No matter how much you read or study about conflict, especially in the Middle East, you don’t actually understand what that means and why certain things are so difficult until you’re involved in it,” she commented. “Once you’re at a grassroots level interacting with people who are directly affected by it all, you tend to develop a much more middle-ground perspective.”

Barkie’s experiences in the Navy showed her that the world, and solutions to the world’s problems, are not black and white, but many shades of grey created from careful consideration and compromise.

As unconnected as they seem, these negotiating skills garnered from years in the military enticed Barkie to pursue a career in civil engineering. As a mediator and self-proclaimed “total tree-hugger” who wants to have a positive influence on our nation’s resources, she’ll bridge the gap between policymakers and engineers in deciding the future of U.S. infrastructure and environment.

“I’ve seen a lot of people involved in policy making who have experience in business or theory, but not many who know about engineering or conservation,” she said. “There are many people in government making these decisions, but few actually know the science behind the environmental policies they pass.”

Barkie plans to use her experience dealing with conflict and the complexities of different ideologies and cultures to help policymakers find nuanced solutions to difficult environmental problems where no magic-bullet answers exist.

But before she conquers the world, Barkie is enjoying her time learning all she can at the U. She’s noticed that her military background has not only enhanced her worldview, but her studious nature.

“I’ve gained a great appreciation for professionalism,” she said. “I am much more dedicated than I was before. I constantly reflect on my time working on my first bachelor’s degree. Now with my military experience, I’ve garnered a stronger sense of obligation and duty to not miss a class, participate as much as possible and turn in assignments on time.”

Barkie is also an active member of the Student Veterans of Utah and works at the Veterans Support Center on the University of Utah campus where she assists in creating a welcoming environment for fellow veterans. Of that she said, “It’s like a home away from home.”