Student Success Stories:
Sometimes it takes a while to find your passion. Just ask Justin Newman, who served in the military and worked for the railroad before he finally realized that a career in engineering was his life's calling.
Born and raised in Willow Springs, Justin graduated from Willow Springs High School in 2006 and joined the Marine Corps immediately afterward. After basic training, he was assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 172 with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, Japan. After two years, he returned stateside to Camp Pendleton in California and served as a basic training instructor for two years.
"I liked the military, but I didn't want to do it long term," he explained. "I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew that wasn't it."
He was discharged in 2013 and shortly after began working for Burlington Northern Railroad, traveling routes in Montana, North Dakota and Mississippi. Although the pay was good and he saw a lot of the country, the hours were long.
"I got tired of working odd hours, the nightshift and on weekends," Justin explained. "I thought I could work 9 to 5 and still find a good job, so I began to look for something different."
Having grown up in Willow Springs, he knew about Missouri State University-West Plains, and with family still in this area, he decided to look at the university's website.
"The traditional path is to go to college right out of high school, but I had zero interest in college after high school. I needed time to grow up," he explained.
While browsing the site he came across information about the university's Associate of Science in Pre-Engineering degree and realized a career in that field interested him.
"I knew it would be easier to go to school here with my family nearby," he explained.
As a veteran, Justin also knew he was eligible for education benefits through the G.I. Bill, so he began working with the Veterans Services office on campus to file the appropriate paperwork to receive his benefits and enroll at the university, which he did just in time for the 2017 spring semester.
"Mark has taken care of pretty much everything from day one," Justin said of Veterans Services Coordinator Mark White. "The G.I. Bill paid 100 percent of my expenses."
This includes tuition, fees, books and a stipend for housing and living expenses, he added.
"It's been awesome," Justin said of his experience at Missouri State-West Plains. "I had no clue what to expect. In some ways, it's been more difficult than I thought it would be, the math and science classes I've taken, but they've also been the classes I've enjoyed the most."
To help him successfully complete those harder classes, he sought out the university's free tutoring services. "I started from square one with math, and they really helped me get a good start," he said.
Now, he's helping other students as a tutor in the Math Lab three days each week and working at the Veterans Center each day, helping fellow veterans navigate the processes toward becoming successful students themselves.
Justin plans to complete two more semesters at Missouri State-West Plains and transfer to the Missouri University of Science & Technology (S&T) in Rolla to complete a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. Ultimately, he said, he would like to find a position with Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative as an engineer.
And, just like at Missouri State-West Plains, Justin will be able to use his military benefits to complete his degree at Missouri S&T. "Mark knows the people at their veterans' center, and he's working with me to transfer there," Justin explained.
"I've enjoyed staying in one place for a few months," he said of his decision to return to Howell County and enroll at Missouri State-West Plains. "It's nice to be home and near my family. It's also been smoother than I thought it would be. I wasn't the best student in high school, so I was expecting it to be rough."
When asked what message he would like to share with others, especially veterans, who might be considering college after time away from the classroom, Justin said, "There's a ton of opportunity in going to college. I don't think it's the only path, but it's one that opens a lot of doorways. If it's something you want to do, go for it!"