SDI is A Veteran Supportive Campus

There are over 400 educational entities in the state of Arizona. Of those, only 35 are Veteran Supportive Campuses. On October 22nd, SDI joined those ranks.

With our high military and veteran population, it goes without saying this recognition is especially meaningful. According to the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, the purpose of becoming a certified Veteran Supportive Campus (VSC) is to better understand the needs of military students and become continually responsive to those needs. The impact and importance of being a VSC can best be said by Rob Howard, the Director of Military and Veteran Services here at SDI.

“It is a stamp of approval that shows that our organization is committed to taking care of our student-veterans.  As an organization, we know how much work we put into ensuring our student-veterans are successful, it is nice to receive a prestigious recognition from the highest level in our State.”

You may be asking yourself, “What does SDI do to support veterans?” Rob’s got us covered on that too.

“There are many things we do to support veterans: we have an office that our student-veterans can visit if they are in the Tempe area SGT Michael J. Beckerman Military and Veteran Services Office; Student Veteran Steering Committee that serves as advocates for our student-veteran population; we have the Military and Veteran Services department whose mission is to support our student-veterans.  Lastly, we have some awesome leaders in our organization that hire individuals that are technically proficient in their jobs and truly care about taking care of veterans.  At the end of the day, our job at SDI is to help others succeed and take care of people, we have a proven track record that says we are darn good at our job.”

Howard’s sentiments were echoed by SDI President Traci Lee.

“Having served the Veteran community for many years, it was important to SDI to ensure we became a Veteran Supportive Campus through the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services (ADVS). We are committed to ongoing training to ensure understanding and ability to respond to the needs of our military students. We are proud of this recognition and look forward to SDI’s ongoing involvement in the Veteran community!”

SDI Thanks Our Veteran Employees

What is a veteran?

On the surface, a veteran is someone who has served in the military, but they are much more than that. Veterans are heroes, modern-day warriors, and ultimately, those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Today, we want to recognize the many veteran employees for their continued efforts in bringing positive change to the world.

Thank you all for your service and for all you do for the betterment of everyone at SDI.


Bob Lee USMC
Bradley Sauls USMC
Chet McCoy USMC
Danny Guckenburg US Army and US Army National Guard
George Ackerman USCG Auxillary
Jacob Burden US Army
Jae Haney US Army and US Air Force
Jeff Lodholtz US Army
Jesse Orellana US Army and US Army National Guard
John Nightraven US Army
John Posner US Army
John Schlosser US Army National Guard
Kristen Shaw US Army and US Air Force
Martin Edge British Army
Reginald Finley US Army and US Army National Guard
Scott Griffin US Army and US Army National Guard
Scott Montgomery US Army
Tom Myers USAF
Travis Johnson USMC
Bryan Dolch USMC
Christopher Seaton US Navy
Wes LeMay US Army
Dustin Ford US Coast Guard
Gary Zito USMC
Lukas Pool US Army
Jonathon Speece US Navy
Marc Prochello US Air Force
Mark Gibbons US Navy
Mike Olson USMC
Pat Harphant USMC
Samuel Field US Army
Sam Schultz US Army
Simona Nichols US Army National Guard
Steve Bozich US Army
Richard Johnson US Army
Tabitha Reynolds US Army
Troy Hardwick US Army
Walter Howard US Army
Will Click US Army
We’d like to give an additional shout out to Martin Edge, who served in the British Army.
We love our SDI family veterans! Share this on Facebook and Twitter and help us give them some recognition for their service!

SDI President Traci Lee Elected To DEAC Board of Directors

SDI’s commander-in-chief recently got some well-deserved accolades!

On April 22, 2019, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, DEAC, elected Sonoran Desert Institue’s president Traci Lee to its Board of Directors on a three-year term. The election was held in conjunction with DEAC’s 93rd Annual Conference and Lee will serve on the board through March 31st, 2022.

The official announcement was made on the DEAC’s website via a press release.

“I am deeply honored to serve as a board member and look forward to the opportunity to utilize my background in the education sector to contribute to the Commission,” said Ms. Lee. “I also have tremendous respect for the board members, and I look forward to working with them.”

SDI’s Vice President of Operations Chris Caraway, who was honored with the DEAC’s Rising Star Award in April, was able to perfectly put everyone at SDI’s feelings into words when asked about Traci’s recent achievement.

“This is a great honor and reflects Traci’s hard work to promote distance education and SDI within our industry,” said Caraway. “We are proud of Traci for being elected to this prestigious position. Much important, yet thankless work lies ahead for Traci in her role as a board member, but no one is more qualified for the job.”

We’re all excited for Traci in this new endeavor and we know she will bring the same energy and expertise to this position that she brings to SDI.

What do you think about this development? Please share this on Facebook and Twitter and let us know!


Sonoran Desert Institute Faculty Hightlight: Master Gunsmith Kip Carpenter

For some, gunsmithing is a job. For others, a hobby. But for Kip Carpenter, it is a way of life. The ever-savvy gunsmith is a master of his trade and has the experience to back up all his learning, both in the classroom and in life. As a young man, Kip got into gunsmithing with a friend and learned from his friend’s father, and learned how to shoot from his own father. He was also instructed by his god-father, a gunsmith and professional shooter.  Kip began gunsmithing when he was just 14 years old, an age where most haven’t even fired their first pistol. At this time he split his love for gunsmithing with another hobby, playing the guitar. Shortly after this Kip started reading up on anything he could get his hands on about gun repair, and ever since then we’ve been witnesses to history in the making.

Kip has amassed a treasure trove of certifications during his time as a gunsmith. His credentials include being a certified pistol smith, shotgun smith, rifle smith, rimfire rifle smith,  and advanced glock armorer. He also earned Armorer’s Certificate from Barrett Firearms on all of their long range rifles. The accomplishments don’t end there, as Kip is also a certified NRA instructor. Eventually, his passion and expertise came together and Kip opened up a shop in Colombia, Tennessee, where had moved to in order to help take care of his ailing father. While in the small town, Kip quickly noticed that the they were in dire need of a gunsmith. From enthusiast, to student, to businessman, Kip’s gunsmithing career has completed the cycle, as he is now not only an instructor at SDI, but also our Master Gunman. SDI’s VP of Academic Affairs Mike Olson perfectly summed up what Kip means to the institute.

“As a member of our faculty, Kip Carpenter has guided and mentored SDI students for years. His dedication to our student body has been demonstrated time and again by his willingness to work one-on-one with his students, help other faculty members, and answer any ‘gun question’ under the sun. In his new role as Master Gunsmith, Kip will lend his 30-plus years of experience in the firearms industry to guide the Department of Curriculum and Assessment in the development and revision of our courses while still bringing his expertise to SDI’s students in the classroom.”

If you haven’t been able to tell by now, Kip really loves what he does. In fact, the only thing that Kip may be more passionate about is teaching. Being able to share all the knowledge he’s gained with the next generation of gunsmiths is what Kip loves most about his job. Their inquisitive nature and desire to learn as much as they can about the craft of gunsmithing reminds Kip asking as many questions as he could in his beginnings. Don’t take my word for it, Kip sums it up perfectly himself.

“What I love the most about being an instructor is passing on the knowledge and history to a new generation of future gunsmiths, so the art of gunsmithing will continue long after I am gone. I also love the questions these young men and women ask me it reminds me of me; I would ask all kinds of questions to gain any knowledge I could and I see the same desire in our students and it makes me so proud of them! I tell you I have the greatest job in the world being at SDI”

So what advice does this Master Gunsmith have for those interested in getting into the trade?

  1. Learn all you can learn from reading books to hands on to just asking question. The master admits that he’s still learning till this day.
  2. Have confidence in yourself and do not be afraid to mess up it happens you learn from it and move on!
  3. Don’t commit to anything you are not trained to do it will just get you in a bind with the customer and damage your reputation, also be completely honest!
  4. Always obey the laws!!
  5. Enjoy what you do and take pride in your work and work space! No one wants to leave their firearm with someone who seems unprofessional or disorganized.

SDI gives Kip the ability to share his love and knowledge with young up-and-coming gunsmiths and he couldn’t be anymore grateful. Kip has been with SDI for three years and sees the school as one big, happy family. Everyone from SDI from the faculty to the students are thankful to have Kip on the team and hope he’ll be with us for many years to come.


Graduate Spotlight: Kevin Cline

Love what you do and you never have to work again. This idea is the embodiment of the American Dream and a goal many thrive to reach. Thanks in part to the knowledge he gained at SDI, Kevin Cline was able to make his dream a reality.

After graduating from SDI with his Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree, Kevin opened up his own gunsmithing shop called Blue Coat Arms Company in Central Illinois.  Although his shop hasn’t been open very long, Kevin says that business is booming thanks to the Facebook and marketing webinars he participated in while attending SDI.

I think that I have watched, or at least tried to watch, every webinar that SDI has available on Youtube,” said Kevin.  “They are great because it allows students to get different perspectives on the industry. Kip’s webinars about starting a business with gunsmithing were the ones that helped me out the most once I had graduated. He breaks things down very well and a lot of the information (Federal law and FFL info) is still relatively the same. Zeke’s webinar about marketing was also very influential in how I have begun to build the brand for my business.”

Blue Coat Arms Company not only embodies Kevin’s love for firearms but for history as well.

“Part of the branding I have built for Blue Coat Arms is the fact that I am a history nerd. ‘No Matter Your Era, We Got Your Six!’ is my slogan and I have some pretty incredible stories from soldiers, veterans, and family members that bring in heirlooms,” said Kevin.  “I have also dived into some projects that were mashed together but turns out that the gun itself had some interesting stories of its own upon further research. Firearms are not just weapons or technology. They are a unique American symbol of our culture and each one is unique with its own story to tell.”

While some prospective students may wonder whether an online school is right for them, SDI’s flexibility is what attracted this new business owner.

One of the biggest reasons I chose SDI was because it was online. I needed something that was going to be flexible, and allow me to stay where I was. My wife and I didn’t have the money to move at that time. The course being online didn’t scare me, probably because I am a little younger. I have also always enjoyed learning at my own pace so that I can power through what I thought was easy and really spend time on the things that I struggled with,” said Kevin.   

Kevin is clearly wise beyond his years and has his flourishing company as proof. What advice does he give to those looking to start their own gunsmithing business?

“KEEP LEARNING! SDI provides its students with a solid foundation to get your foot in the door with this industry, but that is what it is–a foundation. If you don’t continue to learn and push yourself to be better than you will not last very long. Gunsmithing is a long-term commitment to yourself and to your customers. You have to have a thirst for knowledge if you want to be good at it, and stay relevant.”

Spoken like a true master gunsmith in the making.

Why SDI is Stoked for the META Group Skills Summit

Whether you’re an expert marksman looking to pit your knowledge against the best, or an up-and-comer looking to hone your skills, the META Group Skill Summit is the place for you! The two-day takes event will take place October 5th – 7th in Loganville, GA and will be hosted by KC Eusebio and Jessie Harrison, who are both World Champion and United States Army/Navy Special Operations instructors and members of SDI’s Advisory Council. Those attending the course will learn techniques to improve their practical and competitive shooting skills, along with hands-on training in field trauma and combat lifesaver techniques. Needless to say, SDI is thrilled to be a part of this and to support its Advisory Council members!


“We are excited,” said SDI Senior Vice President Wes LeMay. “This is an opportunity for people to come in and get training from two of the top shooters in the world and former representatives of the Special Operations community.” Not only are KC and Jessie members of SDI’s Advisory Board, but an SDI Sponsored Shooter will be attending to sharpen his skills as well.


“I honestly am just super excited to have the opportunity to represent SDI at such an awesome event,” said Theo. “I am always excited and open to learning new things–especially gun-related. The first aid will probably be the most challenging since I have no prior knowledge of that topic. Having SDI there is going to be huge, I love that we are constantly working to make new relationships with people in the industry and are able to tell our story.”


Along with gaining knowledge from experts, those who attend will also get to walk away with custom ZEV/META Pistol!


If you’re interested in learning more about this event, check out this link and follow META Group on Instagram at  And stay tuned for updates on how the event is going!

National Sports Shooting Month Highlight: Theo Susuras

Some shooters have been shooting their entire lives. For others, they didn’t begin to live until they started shooting. It was only five years ago that Theo Susuras started shooting and he’s only been competitively shooting for three years. In that short span, Theo went from “not a big gun person” to an award winning professional shooter.

If you’ve read Theo’s first feature with us, then you know his previous employer introduced a hesitant Theo to the wonderful world of firearms. After his first time out shooting, Theo became instantly hooked. Theo decided to take his love for the sport and turn it into more than a hobby by becoming a professional shooter. In honor of National Sports Shooting Month, we asked Theo what his favorite competition was and he answered quicker than you can fire a pistol.

“The open division is the formula one of racing guns. It is the all out anything goes division, focusing only on the speed and skill of the shooter. That is why I shoot in the open division,” says Theo.
Theo’s passion for competitive shooting has grown tremendously and he can already see the fruits of his labor beginning to blossom. This can clearly be shown in his favorite memory of shooting. Last year, Theo competed at the highest level and took first place in the open division at the Rio Salado Desert Classic. Keep in mind he has only been shooting for half a decade and competing even less.

While the open division is his favorite, Theo isn’t going to limit himself in his pursuit of greatness. Other than the open division, he’s also dabbled in 3-Gun, a competition involving a pistol, shotgun, and rifle.

“My experience with 3-Gun has been brief, but I have enjoyed every second of it!”

Between 3-Gun competitions and USPSA, Theo goes through about 3,000 rounds a month. His newest love my be pricey, but luckily for him he’s got a great job!

“Since my first day at SDI, I have felt like a part of the family. I was invited in and greeted with smiles and a helping hand!”

As an Admissions Representative at SDI Theo helps other who share his passion for firearms pursue their dreams just like he’s living his.