Soldier standing with partner in front of the

Grad Feature: Ian Simpson

  • SDI Admin

“I was working a dead-end job,” said Ian Simpson in a recent phone interview. This is the same epiphany a lot of people have, but what makes Ian exceptional is that he took action to change the situation. He already had a family but really wanted to do something to give to the world around him. So, he joined the United States Army. But once enlisted, he felt there was still more to be done and began thinking What can I do with my life? As a result, Ian enrolled at Sonoran Desert Institute and this February he graduated.

Ian Simpson in Camo outside the Home of Ordance, a military department.

Now Ian Simpson is SDI’s Feature Grad. And selecting him was easy, as he is one of the most engaging and enthusiastic students in recent memory—and his energy is contagious.

After enlisting in the Army, Ian wanted to earn a college degree. He had enrolled in college once before but quickly realized the coursework did not apply to him. For Ian, it was not a matter of his ability to do the work; he just wasn’t into it. This all changed when he met one of SDI’s Education Liaison Officers (ELO) at a base career fair.

“I’m walking around and I see an AR-15 on a table at a career fair. I had to stop,” said Ian. He had always been interested in firearms, and field stripping a rifle was one of his favorite activities. In fact, he was typically first in line to tinker with any mechanism that launched a projectile. Talking to SDI’s ELO he thought, Wow, I can actually get a degree and take classes that really interest me! From there, one of the hardest parts for Ian was making himself enroll in school, but he really wanted a degree and so went for it. Ian found the classes to be challenging but enjoyable. He started out with the Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program, but after SDI became reapproved for use of Active Duty Military Tuition Assistance (TA) for its Associate’s degree program, he transferred to it. For Ian, this degree was highly important.

Ian did his research before enrolling. What impressed him the most was when he checked up on SDI’s instructors. “They had a lot of qualifications. They were competitive shooters and professional gunsmiths,” he said. These same instructors further impressed him with their responsiveness while he was taking classes. “I can only think of one time that an instructor didn’t respond within a couple of hours. I even had an instructor respond to me at like 9 p.m.” Adding to his surprise, there were individualized responses on his papers. “Honestly, I was shocked that they had obviously read through each report in full…they must have had a lot of papers submitted. That’s a lot of work!”

Ian also found it helpful that the school is supportive of its military students. On one occasion, Ian’s duty in the Army interfered with his ability to deliver work on time. He received an immediate response from his instructor saying that it was completely understood and to hand in his work when finished with his obligations.

Through his two years in SDI’s program, Ian put in a lot of effort. His house did not have WiFi® and he ran between his home, McDonald’s®, and the library—anywhere that he could get a connection. He maintained a balance between the military, school, his wife, and two children. And what was he most thankful for during this busy time? “Man, my wife was really supportive and understanding.

Ian plans on making a career out of the military and will be enlisted for a total of 20 years. He is currently expanding his knowledge base by working on the firearms of friends and family. His favorite tasks are working with antique firearms, hunting rifles, and shotguns. Crediting SDI, Ian has developed a comfort to dive into any rifle or handgun because he knows he has the tools to fix it or how to do the proper research to figure it out. He does have one hang-up, though. “I wish I could keep those training videos on me.” Being a visual learner, Ian found those videos to be especially helpful.

There is now a framed college degree on Ian Simpson’s wall. Even so, he doesn’t feel like he’s finished. “I may want to go for a business degree down the road, but I feel like I have great fundamentals from the business course at SDI.” Someday, Ian would like to open his own sporting goods and outdoor survival shop. But for now, he is keeping himself sharp by repairing hunting firearms and antiques. Given his strong record, we have no doubt that when Ian decides to take action on business school or opening a store, he will be successful.

Picture of Ian Simpson, a decorated soldier in front of a staircase.