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Balancing education with the rest of life

Nathan Wiese

MARSHALLTOWN – Making the decision to attend college as an adult can be challenging. Doing it successfully while juggling a job, family, friends, classes, and everything else that life throws at you can feel overwhelming at times. Nathan Wiese made that life-changing decision just two years ago, and he graduated last week with an associate’s degree in Gunsmithing Technology from Iowa Valley Grinnell.

Wiese has worked for 13 years as a Weld Technician for Vermeer in Pella. He lives in Grinnell with his wife, Hallie, and their two sons, Cooper (8) and Leium (5). He has been a full-time student at Iowa Valley Grinnell while juggling the commute, long hours, and the everyday requirements of college and a job. In addition to taking a full load of classes for two years, Wiese took summer classes and participated in non-credit master gunsmithing seminars through Iowa Valley Continuing Education.

A couple of years ago, Wiese started thinking about returning to college to get his degree. He had been doing industrial work all his life and wanted something more. He heard about the gunsmith program and he enjoys working with guns, so he thought to combine what he enjoyed with a degree. Impatient to start his new college studies, he began working 3rd shift to accommodate going to school during the day.

Wiese says his wife was supportive of his return to college. “She has been supportive the whole time,” commented Wiese. “It’s been rough, but with her behind me, my boys, and family and friends, it has helped. I have had to sacrifice a lot of time with all of them to get to this point.” Hallie went to college after high school, and after their oldest son was born she went back to become a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA).

“She is a hell of a woman,” Wiese asserts. “I couldn’t have done this without her.”

His first year of classes worked out well, with classes in the morning and time to sleep in the afternoon before heading to 3rd shift. The second year of coursework was much harder with afternoon classes. “I would get home from work and try and get to sleep for a couple of hours, go to school, home again for a couple of more, then head to work. There were couple of days with no sleep at all.” The enjoyment of his classes helped Wiese get through this rough time. “This final semester has been hard. The lack of sleep is starting to get to me.”

When asked about his experience at Iowa Valley Grinnell and the Gunsmithing program, Wiese says he enjoyed the extensive hands-on teaching. “Most of the time they would give us notes, show us, and then we would do it.” He also had a lot of great classmates that were more than willing to help each other out. There was a good combination of older guys with younger guys, too. “The older guys kept the younger ones grounded and they helped us out by trying to keep us more patient with the reading aspects of the classes.”

The staff at Iowa Valley Grinnell was behind Wiese and his finishing his classes. “The staff went above and beyond to help me. Laura Armstrong offered to let me come in at any time to give my speeches if I wasn’t able to make class. Jodi Blackford and Beth Hotchkin were a huge help. If I needed extra help they were always offering.”

Finishing the Gunsmithing program involves an individual “capstone” project that each student plans during their first year and then finishes during the second semester of the second year. “I knew what I wanted to do as soon as they told us about this my first year,” says Wiese. “One of the projects we worked on in class was producing a 1911 pistol. I knew I wanted to make a twin set for my capstone.”

After all of the long hours and time away from his family Wiese has no regrets. “It has really been worth it … tough, but worth it. If you are dedicated enough you can do it. The biggest thing was having the support always there.”

Iowa Valley Community College District’s PACE program funding helped alleviate some of the financial stress of going to college when Wiese qualified for funding to help with transportation costs and attending the master seminars, which were not covered by financial aid. The master classes were not covered by financial aid.

Wiese credits PACE Coordinator Jennifer Rice with being a constant presence during his studies. “I couldn’t have done it without the extra financial aid as well as Jennifer always asking if I needed anything else. With the PACE help, I was able to purchase parts that were needed for my projects. It was definitely a good benefit.”

Wiese’s dream, now that he has graduated, is to have his own business doing gun customizations. Asked what advice he would give someone coming back to school, he says, “If you have a family make sure they understand how much time it will take away from them. It is only two years and it will be worth it in the end. Having a good support system is a big thing but its achievable. You have to be really dedicated and see it through.”

Another piece of advice is to do your research about where you are planning to attend college. “I didn’t do that and I got lucky with a great staff who was willing to help me. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Having a good support system at home and at school makes everything more achievable. Kudos to the staff. Without them it would have been very hard.”

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