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IU Northwest News

‘Coming from the military to college is challenging’


William Dillin, a recent grad and veteran, credits much of his college and career success to military training

Wednesday Nov 04, 2015


William Dillin was a college late-comer. He had decided to serve his country first in the U.S. Marine Corps before enrolling at Indiana University Northwest.

After graduating from Portage High School, the 26-year-old Valparaiso native joined the Marines and served from 2006 to 2013. He achieved the rank of Sergeant and deployed overseas twice -- first for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and again to Southeast Asia as part of a unit deployment program to reinforce military units in the region. His specialty was aircrew survival equipment and he worked on F/A 18 Hornet fighter jets.

While living on an aircraft carrier for seven months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, Dillin prepared for the end of his service by researching careers and majors and applying to colleges.

“I had been away from my family for five years so I wanted to come back and go to a local school,” he says.

It turns out the decision to delay college served him well. The lifestyle he’d become accustomed to in the military – the discipline and strict regimen – carried over to his approach to college. Within six months of returning home, he was sitting in a classroom at IU Northwest.

Going to college, Dillin admits, was daunting. The transition from the military wasn’t easy. He lacked guidance and mentors that some students have to help them along.

“It was difficult getting enrolled because a lot of kids coming out of high school they have their parents to help,” he explains. “Being an adult, and coming out of the military and not having contact with college graduates, or college students who understand the process and financial aid and selecting a major and things like that, it was kind of difficult. I have gotten most of my help from other students.”

But thanks to that military-style determination, Dillin quickly surmounted that obstacle.

“I kept my ambition and drive from the military but I applied it in a different area and it has grown into good things,” Dillin says.

He decided to pursue radiography at first, because his aunt had just received a radiography degree from IU Northwest. She had been the only one in his family to earn a college degree, and she had enjoyed her job, so this is where he decided to begin his academic journey, too.

But his interests took him down a different course. He wanted the humanities and the arts to be part of his education. He had thought about law enforcement, because of his military background, and that led him to criminal justice.

“Coming into college, I was kind of apprehensive -- coming out of the military and into a liberal arts school. I kind of felt that way for a few semesters until I switched to criminal justice and we started tackling things that mattered. It caught my attention and I starting becoming a hard-working student and I actually cared about the studies and I searched for knowledge beyond what was required. It turned me into a student who loves learning.”

Dillin earned his degree in 3-1/2 years and that’s including a degree switch that delayed his graduation. His grade point average was almost flawless – an impressive 3.94. He became involved in activities that furthered his education and enhanced his skill-set, like the National Society for Leadership and Success, and the Criminal Justice Club.

Asked to summarize his IU Northwest experience in two words, Dillin said, “Life. Changing.”

“Take advantage of all the student activities and get to know your professors. There is a lot of good networking that professors provide. Research opportunities. Take advantage of everything. It’s not just the book work that you are getting from college. It’s a full experience.”

After graduating from IU Northwest in 2015, he began eyeing an MBA while also conducting a job search. When a job didn’t pan out right away, he started to take business school more seriously when out of the blue, he heard from the lead maintenance and engineering manager for the Kraft Heinz Company, the second largest processed food manufacturer in the world.

The company pursued him heavily and convinced him to relocate to its facility in Newberry, SC, where he now works as a maintenance supervisor, hired at more than double the average starting salary for a bachelor’s degree holder.

“I run a crew of 17 mechanics,” Dillin said. “I enjoy the challenge of such a large facility and the wide variety of equipment and advanced electronics that I work with on a daily basis.”

Dillin said that one thing he would like both civilian students and military veterans to understand is that they are not boxed in by their degree field. He studied criminal justice, but is now a maintenance supervisor at a huge, well-known company.

“Overall, I have achieved the dreams that I had when leaving the military due to my drive, the support of the Department of Veterans Affairs Post 9/11 GI Bill, and some inspiring professors who I learned from at IU Northwest,” Dillin said. “I knew that I would be sacrificing while in college, but I hoped it would be worth it and it was. Working hard through my years at IU Northwest paid off with a great new career.”

Looking back, what he appreciated most about his IU Northwest education was the level of communication he experienced with the professors.

“You can talk to them one-on-one and go to their office hours and talk about things in class but also about things outside of class like your professional life, society and how your studies relate. You kind of build a professional friendship with your professors and I don’t think you’d get that at a bigger school where you have hundreds of people in your class.”

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