Academic Excellence Award Student News

Academic Excellence Winner – Kylan Nelson, Computer Technology

“I couldn’t sit in front of a book. When you have a teacher doing the same thing physically and you’re in front of a computer, it’s amazing because you’re seeing exactly what you need to do.

When Kylan Nelson was a little kid, he watched his brother play an Xbox game featuring UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighters and was fascinated by it and decided that’s what he wanted to do — not play video games but learn martial arts. His mom signed him up with a local gym and until starting his college career Nelson studied several martial arts, including competing in Brazilian Jujitsu. He also started boxing at age 15.

But Nelson’s awareness of the dangers of Ultimate Fighting led him to seek a college education rather than try to make a career in mixed martial arts. And the discipline and maturity he learned from his martial arts practice helped him stay focused on his studies at Dunwoody and become an Academic Excellence award winner for the Computer Technology department.

“A lot of men that are 18 are not fully mature. I feel like at the age of 17 or 18, you can’t be immature with that kind of environment,” he said, speaking of spending time at a dojo or a gym like The Academy Elk River where he trained.

Nelson also knew that whatever his career path, he wanted something hands-on. He’d experienced that mode of teaching while learning martial arts and discovered that he learned more easily if a teacher demonstrated a technique or principle and then he could practice it himself.

His mom suggested he check out Dunwoody because she knew her son liked computers and Andy, one of the IT staff at her workplace, is an alumnus.

Nelson toured campus and sat in a couple of classes and thought they were “really cool.” He also called up Andy, and he said it was a good idea. And if that wasn’t enough validation, a career fair was taking place the day Nelson toured campus so he and his mom went around and talked to the companies, and “they said Dunwoody was the way to go.”

And Computer Networking Systems seemed like a great fit.

“Before Dunwoody I didn’t know how to build a computer, but I wanted to get that hands-on knowledge,” Nelson said. “I have a bunch of friends who are computer gamers. I was interested in the hardware. But then [in the computer networking classes] you learn about operating systems. You learn about every little thing — you even learn about binary code.”

And just as he suspected, Dunwoody’s hands-on, project-based approach really worked for him.

“I couldn’t sit in front of a book,” he said. “When you have a teacher doing the same thing physically and you’re in front of a computer, it’s amazing because you’re seeing exactly what you need to do. And then it’s up to you to practice it, of course.”

“Kylan has a strong work ethic and is curious about technology,” said Julie McFadden, Associate Professor of Computer Networking. “He is always willing to help others and takes on leadership of team situations in an unassuming manner.”

Nelson credits the example of his mom, who works as a loan officer, for his drive to get his class work done.  

“She’s a hard worker. She’s on the phone every day. Works 12 hours a day, every day,” he said. “She keeps me going. I want to repay her in some way. That’s why I try to work hard as well.”

He was also struck by a faculty member who mentioned that when you work in IT, you’ll be assigned an objective by your boss and you’re going to need to plan out how to get it done. To help him have that mindset, Nelson bought a calendar and used it to plan out when he is going to do his class reading, studying, and assignments.

“This is going to be where my future career starts. Every day graduation is getting closer,” he said.

Nelson is applying for jobs at the moment. He knows it’s a challenging time right now, but remains positive. He also figures if he needs to, he can always sign up with an IT recruiter or a temp agency.

He also has a project he started while at Dunwoody that he wants to finish: he’s working on a smart mirror that will display things like the local weather and holidays. He built a picture frame and has set up the Raspberry Pi that will feed data to the mirror. Now he just needs the two-way glass for the mirror/display.

And, of course, once he does land a job and has money for parts, Nelson plans to build and customize his own computer now that he has the skills to.