Navy vet, cancer survivor sharpens her 'bloodhound's sense' for tech at GCU

Mercedes Rangel set up communications on the USS Carl Vinson when she served in the Navy. She received her bachelor's degree in IT with an emphasis in cybersecurity on Friday.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow /Spring Commencement video

Mercedes Rangel’s keenly analytical brain lights up when she’s at the computer.

One of her professors at Grand Canyon University, Deborah Haralson, likens the cyber puzzle-solving phenom to having this sense – this amazing, innate, no-one-can-teach-you-that, hands-down “bloodhound’s sense” – for technology.

Rangel, donning her cap and gown more than two hours before go-time for GCU's Commencement on Friday for traditional students, thinks she might have inherited that sharp tech instinct from her mother.

She remembers the amazement she felt as a little girl growing up watching her mom, who earned her degree in the computer field in those early days, as computers were just becoming a fixture in home offices across the country.

“I would watch her break down computers and bring them back up and mess with floppy disks and all that stuff. It was pretty cool to see that,” said Rangel, who knew much about computers even before she stepped inside a college classroom.

Rangel has an exceptional ability to troubleshoot problems, say her professors.

The eight-year veteran of the Navy said she tinkered with them endlessly before graduating from high school. So when she joined the Navy, she knew that was what she wanted to do and scored high enough on her military entrance exam to train in IT for her job, which was to set up communications on naval ships – in her case, the USS Carl Vinson, the nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier homeported in San Diego.

“I was always good with computers,” she said, simply, and loved her life in the Navy.

“What I liked was just being able to be introduced to all the different cultures, and the food was amazing, the people, the experiences. It was nice.”

More importantly, she found a second home in the Navy – a special bond with the people who served alongside her.

“I have a lot of amazing people in my life now from being in the military … so it’s just the community, the family relationship.”

And it was her family – her Navy friends and her own family, too – who helped her mount the biggest challenge in her life.

While she was in the military, doctors diagnosed Rangel with non-Hodgkins Burkitt Lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that starts in organs, like the abdomen or spleen, moves rapidly and is fatal if not treated immediately.

“It’s an exposure cancer, so we don’t know necessarily what it was that caused it,” Rangel said.

The Navy sent Rangel to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where she underwent intensive chemotherapy for six months in 2019.

She recovered but wasn’t able to return to the Navy.

“After my family helped get me back on my feet, they moved out here (to Arizona). I was still in San Antonio, working for UTSA (the University of Texas at San Antonio), then I realized I missed my family, and I just wanted to be closer to them.”

That’s when she decided, instead of going back to work, she would go to school, and chose GCU, where she majored in information technology with an emphasis in cybersecurity.

“I’m 33, so I grew up when AOL was being introduced … and dial-up and everything else like that,” she said with a smile.

But she hasn’t stopped learning.

At GCU, she soaked in everything – and excelled – even while balancing the other aspects of her life.

Somehow, in between all her studies, she managed to find time to compete in CrossFit, something she found a love for in the Navy.

After overcoming an aggressive form of cancer, Rangel said she missed her family, so moved to Arizona to be with them and decided to get her bachelor's degree.

“I was lifting a lot in the military before I got sick, and after I got sick, it was kind of discouraging because I couldn’t do a lot because of everything I was going through treatment-wise.

“After, lifting weights and just being active helped me a lot … Even though I’m not as strong as I used to be, I’m somewhere where somebody with my disabilities can thrive.”

Haralson, chair of the bachelor’s in IT and IT/cyber programs at GCU, said Rangel is “quite possibly the most brilliant student I’ve ever met … I truly envy her brain.”

And Dwight Farris, cyber/IT faculty lead, is awed by her “exceptional ability to troubleshoot problems.”

“The reason I like it so much is you could know nothing about it, and you could just use anything, like Google, or any type of search engine at your disposal, to learn about it,” said Rangel almost without pausing or taking a breath, her thoughts coming out as fast as her brain can produce them. “You can pick it up quickly just messing around with it and getting lost with it.”

But what she likes the best about computers: “The biggest way for me to put it is I love mysteries and clues, and I’m really good at board games and figuring things out, and that’s what I like about the cybersecurity world. You could think it’s one thing, but it can be something completely different, and so you have to figure out, why is that?”

Dressed in her graduation regalia, the why is easy to see when it comes to her time at GCU.

She was where she was meant to be, sharpening that bloodhound sense for technology that God gave her.

She thinks she may go for her master’s degree, though she’s looking for a job that she could grow in and where she could constantly be learning.

“I would just love to be a part of that, wherever I’m available to be a valuable resource for somebody.”

GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

***

Related content

GCU NewsOnetime aspiring golfer makes the cut as Commencement speaker

GCU NewsAn inaugural social worker's journey, right into humble service

GCU News: First Barnabas Pastoral Program grads ready to make a difference

GCU News: Nursing graduate to mom: 'I know she sees me and is proud of me'

Calendar

Calendar of Events

M Mon

T Tue

W Wed

T Thu

F Fri

S Sat

S Sun

1 event,

0 events,

3 events,

3 events,

6 events,

3 events,

1 event,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

3 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

2 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/