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Vet changes course: Trades battlefield for classroom

Nick Arnold never saw college in his future, even though his father was a teacher and principal. Before he was old enough for a driver’s license, he told his parents he was joining the U.S. Marine Corps with his best friend and that’s exactly what he did.

At 22, after traveling to Jordan and Kuwait, conducting jungle training with allied military forces in the Philippines, and serving as a machine gun squad leader in Afghanistan, Nick completed his four years of service. He trained to become an emergency medical technician in the heart of Chicago, and thought he’d be an EMT forever.

And then he met Dana Maier, a kindergarten teacher, at a Fourth of July party, and his life took another turn. They married in 2015, moved to the suburbs and he went to trade school to become a welder like his grandfather. But something was missing. His wife and his dad, Tim Arnold, a three-time ISU alum who’s now a school superintendent, encouraged him to consider teaching.

Even though it was a 90-mile commute from their Lockport home, Nick chose Illinois State University, majoring in technology and engineering education. “I knew the history ISU had, especially when it comes to teaching. I wanted that on my resume, to say I was trained at ISU.”

Going from two paychecks to one was tough. The GI Bill took care of tuition, but with a full course load and three hours a day on the road, there wasn’t a lot of time to work. And last June, he added dad to his list of responsibilities when son, Jack, was born.

What made life a little easier was the Charles Porter Scholarship for Leadership.

“The Charles Porter Scholarship was definitely a saving grace,” Nick said. “I haven’t had to worry about getting in my car and rushing back to a part-time job to make minimum wage. I wanted to put my best foot forward, get great grades, learn as much as I could and not worry about anything else, and this scholarship has allowed me to do that.”

He’ll graduate in May and hopes to teach high schoolers.

“I really think it’s my passion,” he said. “I want to be a role model to all those high school kids. I’ve had so many mentors throughout my life, starting with my parents, all the way up to the Marine Corps. Here at ISU, my professors really inspire me. I want to be that for my high school students.”

At 29, he feels the decision he made as a high school sophomore to join the military led him to exactly where he needed to be.

“A big reason why I took to teaching as much as I did was because of my Marine Corps experience. When I was a squad leader, I was directly responsible for my men’s lives. I liked being that father figure and that mentor to them. And I think in teaching I’m going to be able to get that back.”

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