Graduate Spotlight: William Haskell
William Haskell served four years in the Marine Corps and worked as a Combat Marksman instructor. He spent his entire life around firearms, whether it was with his grandfather who collected and modified firearms, or when he and his brother used to beg to clean his father’s rifles. William joined the police force in 1997, and after 21 years of service, his passion for firearms has never diminished. One of his friends and fellow officers had completed SDI’s associate degree program and brought the school to William’s attention. A few weeks later, he encountered a Google ad for SDI, and decided he really needed to check it out.
William remembers his grandfather, who adamantly denied being a firearms collector despite buying two of every military-style rifle. One he would modify for hunting and one he would put into original condition as a keepsake. When his father inherited those rifles, William and his brother would beg their father to clean them. Hi dad was a safety-oriented firearms owner and believed that the teaching of firearms was essential if he was to own them around children. Letting his boys clean his rifles was bonding experience, an education, and a benefit: he never had to clean his own rifles.
Today, with more than two decades on the police force under his belt, William works as a detective. And he is also the firearms guy in his department. If something is broken or cannot be identified, his number is on speed dial for his fellow officers. His reputation and enthusiasm for firearms is part of why he sought out SDI.
After starting and not completing an associate program in Criminal Justice, William was a bit hesitant to enroll in school. He knew the time commitment that it required, and his free time was devoted to his family. He also knew that the schedule of a police officer can lack in consistency, so he wanted to make sure he would have the time to fulfill his obligations. William had enjoyed his Criminal Justice classes, but he didn’t have an overall enthusiasm for them like he did with firearms. Still, he had a drive to complete the college education he had started years ago, and after several phone calls with SDI’s Mike Olson, William decided that finishing his education was something he really wanted to do. He had finally found an education that he was passionate about.
Finding a solid time to study was William’s primary challenge. With a family, kids, and a full-time job, it can be difficult to book time to hit the books. He decided that putting time in early in the week so that he was finished by mid-week was his best use of time. “Some of the classes were pretty easy for me. I had a lot of experience with firearms, which was helpful, and those breaks were needed because some of the classes were really challenging. Writing papers was really difficult at first, but by the end of my classes, I was pretty good at it,” said William. The challenge of writing was not unexpected for him. “The reading and writing could get pretty daunting, but this was college and that is expected for higher education.” While William had a lot of experience working on firearms, there were always new things to learn. “Metalworking and checkering were parts of gunsmithing that I had never experienced. It was really interesting, and it took some effort,” he said. “Luckily, my credits transferred from my previous college education, so I didn’t have to retake all of my core classes. That was a huge help to me.”
One of the events unique to William’s education was his meeting with SDI’s President, Traci Lee, SDI’s Vice President, Wes LeMay, and SDI’s Director of Faculty Services, Sara McGilvray. He had decided to attend the Certified Firearms Specialist training in St. Louis, Missouri, where SDI’s staff were also attending. It was a chance encounter, but one that stuck with William. “I saw an SDI shirt and asked the gentleman about it. He said he worked with SDI but did not tell me immediately he was the Vice President. I was really surprised when they asked me to lunch and had even inquired about my grades. Traci Lee told me she was really impressed with my grades. I was pretty surprised that they took such an interest in one of their students.”
Having graduated in November of 2017, William is grateful to now have more time to spend with his family and to take his kids to their competitive trap shooting meets. Initially, he planned on utilizing gunsmithing as a part-time income source in retirement. He imagined that it would be difficult to get his foot in the door in the firearms industry, so he wanted to give it time to develop. Adding to his hesitation to jump right in were his experiences with SDI’s course in business management. “Man, I realized how much goes into starting a business and how precious my time is now. I don’t have the time between my work and my family to do a business correctly,” said William. Fate, however, had different intentions for William. With his reputation as a tinkerer of firearms and being newly graduated from SDI’s program, he was referred to a job opening as a part-time gunsmith. “I realize there are parts of the trade, like machining, that require some significant hands-on time. With what I learned at SDI, combined with my previous experience, I can work my way through most of the problems that I find with firearms. I also have the mental tools to find out how to fix the problems I haven’t encountered.”
William did have a few takeaway pointers for SDI. “I really wanted to learn more about the business side of the industry. The business management course I attended left me hungry for more information, like how to keep a business up and running in years one, five, and beyond, as well as inventory management.” William learned to be proactive with his professors, who he said were transparent about their availability and let him know if there would be a delay in their response. “I was pretty surprised that those instructors, who no doubt have to grade hundreds of papers, typically responded within 24 hours. I just had to be proactive and not sit around waiting for them to contact me; I reached out to them. I even got my questions answered on quiz questions that I felt I missed even though I fully understood the topic.”
William is now an SDI graduate and a part-time gunsmith. He showed grit when the reading was, in his words, like pulling teeth. “Reading and writing papers is hard, but college isn’t supposed to be easy,” he said. The classes he took set him up with a knowledge base that put him on a path toward gunsmithing as a source of employment. William’s passion for firearms has taken him far.
What will you do with your passion?