By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
David Sitzes spent six years roaming the world on a submarine as a nuclear reactor operator for the U.S. Navy.
For three months at a time, he monitored temperature and pressure controls on the reactor to make sure it didn’t blow up.
“That’s it,” he said Wednesday night. “No big deal.”
The job kept him away from his family 80 percent of the year, though. So, at some point, he decided he wanted more — a stable life and children.
He wanted to continue working with electronics once he got out of the Navy, but he couldn’t find a job.
“I had the experience,” he said. “I just needed the degree.”
The now-27-year-old enrolled at Purdue University College of Technology Kokomo four years ago to earn a degree in electrical engineering technology and finally saw the fruits of his labor Wednesday night.
Donning a cap and gown, Sitzes walked across the stage in Haven’s Auditorium at Indiana University Kokomo to receive his degree. He was among 34 graduates at the Kokomo campus.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “I’m ready to get to work.”
Sitzes found a job as an electrical engineer for a company in Indianapolis. He started two days ago.
Other graduates shared similar success stories as they waited for commencement to begin.
Twenty-three-year-old Heidi Ryan earned her degree in organizational leadership and supervision and already has a job as a supervisor at Chrysler.
While Weston Bridgewater took classes at Purdue College of Technology Kokomo, he also found time to work on the latest Corvette radio system at Delphi. That part-time gig turned into a full-time job.
Officials at the university said it’s not uncommon for their graduates to land a job well before they finish their final classes. Many are earning degrees in high-demand fields.
The 15 students who earned their degrees in computer and information technology were especially sought after this year. Most had two or three job offers, said Jeff Griffin, director of Purdue’s Kokomo campus.
“I’m proud of them,” he said. “They’ve all worked really hard. They’ve all put in a lot of hours.”
Students spoke of all-night study sessions, complex assignments and 100-page reports. They said they sacrificed weekends and time with their families and friends to reach Wednesday’s commencement.
“We pushed through, and here is our reward,” said graduate Megan Mahoney, who gave the class response.
With their degrees, Wednesday’s graduates are poised to find better ways to program a computer or wire a circuit. They’re not encumbered by conventional thinking, Associate Dean Andrew Schaffer said during his commencement address.
“You learned how to come up with solutions no one else has thought of,” he said.
Success won’t come without work, though. And the students have to have the courage to take the first steps. Brilliant minds have been wasted because they never even started their lives, Schaffer said.
“Today you’re at the starting point of a great new journey,” Schaffer said. “Every one of you will change the world. How you change it is up to you.”
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