By Rachel Sinn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nontraditional students often enter college with a stigma because they do not fit the typical profile of an undergraduate student, but proving everyone wrong has always driven one man to succeed against the odds.
Formerly in the Marine Corps, Nathan Durbala, 26, is now serving in the Army Reserve and attending the ROTC program here at
Before Durbala’s military days, he described himself as lacking self-discipline. In the fall of 2004, Durbala entered Iowa State for the first time, as an incoming freshman.
“I went to all my classes the first day, and then after that, I didn’t go to a single class the entire semester,” Durbala said. “I got in with the wrong crowd and with the wrong friends and just partied my butt off. I’d go to [off-campus] parties and then the next morning would crack open another beer and drink all day until that night when I could go out and party again,” Durbala said.
Durbala said that his actions were “ridiculous” and “stupid” and he ultimately made the decision to drop out of school.
“I dropped out before I was kicked out, because I thought that would look better on my record,” Durbala said.
The aftermath of failing school was not well-received with his family. Durbala found out quickly he didn’t have many options except to enter the military.
“I went over the next steps of life with my mom,” Durbala said. “They got the report card, and my dad did not want to say a word to me. He practically disowned me.”
With no job, no home and no money, Durbala went to a Des Moines recruiting station to join the Air Force that December during blizzard-like conditions, but the recruiter was on vacation.
“On my way out, a Marine Corps recruiter sees me and says: ‘Where you going, son?’” Durbala said. After explaining he was there to join the Air Force, the Marine Corps recruiter convinced him to join the Marines instead.
“I gained a lot of self-discipline. It is the best service experience I’ve ever had,” Durbala said.
Having had a military-style upbringing with a father that served in the Air Force, Durbala said Marine boot camp wasn’t much different.
“The way my dad treated me growing up, he kind of yelled at me like a drill instructor, so I had a little advantage. I was used to it,” Durbala said. Durbala said his Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, is 36B, making him a financial management technician. He said this made for an “uninteresting” desk-job deployment.
“For the 200 days I was stationed in Iraq, we were [shelled] for 190 days consecutively,” Durbala said. “There were a couple times where I had to drop to the ground, cover my head and put my face in the dirt, and just hope ‘not me today.’ It wasn’t a traumatic deployment, though.”
About a year after returning from deployment, Durbala knew he wanted to use his educational benefits from the military and entered Iowa State for a second time.
“I always wanted to go to ISU,” Durbala said. “I have great pride in ISU.”
Unfortunately, because of his past, many friends and relatives were not supportive and feared that entering college would put him back into the party lifestyle that got him in trouble the first time.
Durbala said proving to everyone he can be successful in school has ultimately repaired his relationship with father.
“Things are a lot better now between me and Dad, especially because I’m back in college,” Durbala said.
The defining moment for Durbala and his father came at the end of his first semester when he received a 3.2 GPA. With encouragement from his wife, Nicole Durbala, he decided to surprise his father with a gift basket and a card containing a printed-out report card for Christmas.
“My dad, his jaw just dropped because he was so happy that I was successful the first semester coming back,” Durbala said.
Durbala credits the military with changing his drive to want to be a better student.
“If I had it my way, I would kind of have everyone join the service and serve at least two years. If you go through that, you gain a lot of self-discipline and motivational skills and interpersonal skills that you never knew you had before,” Durbala said.
Fellow ROTC cadet Tim Brincks disagrees with this idea. “You need people that actually want to be there and want to be dedicated to it. So I’d rather have a volunteer that wants to be there than someone that’s forced,” Brincks said.
Durbala continues to work toward his bachelor’s degree in management information systems with the support of his wife and their two children Natalie, 3, and Nicholas, 2.
“Here we are, my third semester back at college with five more to go, and I’m still on the rise,” Durbala said.