Above: Junior computer information systems major Ryan Byrne is the team lead of AV integration within the College of Charleston’s Division of Information Technology and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. (Photo by Mary Muldoon)

While many of his high school peers were off touring colleges, Long Island native Ryan Byrne was walking into a United States Marine Corps recruitment office at the age of 16 to enlist.

“I met with the recruiter and signed on as quickly as I could,” recalls Byrne. “At the time, I wanted that to be my career.”

And so, in 2016, he graduated from high school and then attended basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. From there he was off to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to learn the skills needed to become an unmanned aerial vehicle operator. While the idea of the military using unmanned aircraft dates back to World War I, technology is constantly changing, and many people are now accustomed to hearing about drones.

“Drones have become a larger presence in all the branches of the military because one of the initiatives moving forward is to take the pilot out of the seat of an aircraft – especially when performing missions or reconnaissance – so the Marine Corps started putting a lot more people into that field,” says Byrne, who was constantly working with new technology and excelled in the program.

In December 2019, he was deployed to the Persian Gulf. While the world was learning to handle the pandemic, he was in the middle of the sea with his fellow Marines and sailors. He came back in August 2020 and spent his final year with the Marines as a flight instructor, teaching incoming Marines just as he had experienced in his early career.

When he left the Marines in July 2021, Byrne realized it was time to figure out the next chapter of his career. There were plenty of opportunities for drone operators of his skill set in transportation, the fishing industry, geospatial research, military contract work and even with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But, when his sister applied to the College of Charleston, his interest was piqued about going back to school.

“I didn’t even know about the College before then,” he says, “so I looked into it and thought it looked great. Charleston seemed like a cool area, so I applied.”

It was a seamless process, and he moved to the city when he was accepted into the College, where he decided to major in computer information systems.

Then it was time to find a job.

“I went on Handshake, and there was an IT job for an AV technician. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, since, to me, AV stood for aerial vehicle,” laughs Byrne, who got the part-time position working on the AV Support Team in the College’s Division of Information Technology and – after programming his own equipment systems – was quickly promoted.

Recognizing that Byrne had the drive, the knowledge and the work ethic to keep up with his job and still be a full-time student, his supervisors eventually asked him to apply for a full-time position within IT.

“I’m on campus for probably around 50 hours a week,” says Byrne, who is now the AV integration team lead in the networking and engineering branch of the IT division. “It’s definitely busy, but it’s paying off.”

Being a full-time student and a full-time College employee doesn’t allow Byrne much free time, but he says he likes to take advantage of all the attractions offered around town.

“There’s so much to do in Charleston,” he says. “There’s so much culture and people from different backgrounds, and I love to participate in the events Charleston has to offer.”

The College of Charleston is a silver-level Military Friendly School that supports the active military, veterans, spouses and military family members through its Office of Veteran and Military Student Services.