KOKOMO, Ind. – When Dan Allender West returned to college, he expected to go to class, do what was required, and complete his degree as quickly as possible.
“I planned on coming back to check off the boxes to get my degree, and then move on, hopefully to a career related to my field,” said Allender West, a senior at Indiana University Kokomo. “A few professors were instrumental in helping me find joy in the process in a way I didn’t expect, coming in at 35 and graduating at 37.”
As he’s worked on his degree in communication, Allender West earned a place in the honors program, participated in the undergraduate research symposium, and was chosen to present at a conference later this year. He said Chris Darr, professor of communication arts, and Erin Doss, associate professor of communication arts, both pushed him to expect more from himself.
“I did an outline for an assignment, and Dr. Doss said, ‘This is fine, but you’re taking the easy route. You should consider stretching more,’” he said. “They’ve both encouraged me to do more projects and try harder projects.”
His time at IU Kokomo pushed him in a way he would not have anticipated, as he plans for a career in communications in higher education, veteran’s affairs, or a similar organization.
“I want to work someplace I can feel ethically good about,” he said. “I’ve found a direction for myself that I wouldn’t have known about. But, even if I had, it wouldn’t have been possible without coming here.”
Doss said Allender West impressed her right away, with his willingness to speak up and participate in class discussion, and then with his leadership in a group project.
She added he completed the Honors Program, with more rigorous work in several of his classes, and giving more than the required number of research presentations.
“Dan has an impressive work ethic, and brings his unique humor and life experience to every assignment,” she said. “I’m proud of the work he has accomplished during his time on campus, and I’m excited to see where he will go after graduation.”
His path is not what he would have imagined after graduating from high school in Champaign, Illinois. He’d been accepted into a few colleges, but after a semester or two studying psychology, he knew he wasn’t ready. Allender West then enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in both Mosul and Baghdad, Iraq.
“It was long stretches of mind-numbing boredom, interspersed with incredibly intense, frantic moments,” he said. “When there weren’t bombs falling, it was a form of an office job.”
A knee injury gained him a medical discharge and sent him back to the U.S., where he bounced from job to job, searching for the right direction.
“I was just working jobs, in a holding pattern, doing nothing to really better myself or move towards something I have a passion for, and then I saw an IU Kokomo billboard,” he said.
“I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s give that a try,’” he said. Four weeks later, after confirming his veteran’s benefits, he enrolled with a goal of finishing in two years. Benefits allowed him to only work part time, so he could take five or six classes every semester. Plus, transfer credits gave him a boost.
In addition to classroom work, he led social media for IU Kokomo’s Podcast Festival, and created a newsletter for the Multicultural Center.
Allender West looks forward to having his family at Commencement on May 11.
“I enjoy that my father will finally get to see me walk across the stage,” he said. “He’s a college professor, and is over the moon that I’m back in and thriving here.”