Sonoran Desert Institute

All the Latest News, Reviews and Developments happening with the Sonoran Desert Institute!

SDI Announces Student Ambassadors


At SDI, we’re proud to have absolutely amazing students. Many are serving or have served in our military, many juggle jobs and families while they study, and all of our students have a passion for firearms. It’s our honor to be a part of their personal growth and education, and we love getting to know our students on an individual basis. Out of over a thousand students, we’ve chosen two to be our Student Ambassadors for the coming months, and it’s our pleasure to introduce you to them today.

Student Ambassadors are selected to serve as stellar representatives of our student body. They are personally nominated by SDI Instructors, are current students in the Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program or Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree program with at least a 3.5 gpa, and their applications and essays were reviewed by our Student Ambassador Selection Committee.

Without further ado, we are proud to announce our Student Ambassadors, Brianna Phillips and Sam Scurlock.

Brianna and Sam share some similar experiences. Both immediately enlisted in the Army upon graduating high school—in fact, Sam enlisted two days after his 18th birthday.

“I grew up in Germany, so I actually enlisted in Germany…as soon as I graduated, I pretty much packed my bags and left for Georgia,” he says.

Both students were deployed; Brianna spent a year in Iraq and Sam was sent to Afghanistan twice, plus stints in Qatar and Germany. Brianna left service in 2013, and Sam is Active Duty, currently stationed in Ft. Bragg after switching from the infantry in the 82nd Airborne Division to Psychological Operations in 2011.

Both are also married and have children, but from there, their stories diverge.

Brianna, a current Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree student after having graduated from the Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program, first started with SDI over a year ago. She, along with her husband, has already opened a small business called Full Spectrum Enterprises in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where they currently reside.

“In Wyoming, there are a lot of hunting and outdoor sports stores, but there’s not a lot of training with tactical gear,” she noted. “We thought that being able to get your hands on certain types of gear would be beneficial because there’s really nothing out here like that. We’ve tried to stay away from loans and borrowing money, and we’ve really tried to bring this up out of our back pockets. We take pride in being able to do everything on our own.”

Since obtaining her Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate, Brianna is excited to expand the gunsmithing side of their business. They currently specialize in training, mindful carry techniques, and tactical preparedness, but Brianna’s training will offer a broader range of services.

“I have my gunsmithing certificate and that’s kind of what I want to focus on personally,” she said. “I know we have the training options, but I feel like we’ll stick out by offering gunsmithing because a lot of places around here might offer the training or the products we do but not a lot of them offer the gunsmithing.”

Brianna’s husband is also a student at SDI, and the two of them hope to build Full Spectrum Enterprises into a successful endeavor that also gives them the opportunity to balance family and business.

Sam’s goal is to stay active duty for another 10 years or more. For him, SDI became a possibility when it re-gained its ability to accept TA, and he enrolled in the Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate in May after his most recent deployment.

“I know that just for the time being, while I’m currently still active duty, I won’t be actively working as a gunsmith,” he says, “it’ll mostly be at a hobbyist level of gunsmithing activities, primarily on my own weapons. However, I am looking at pursuing an FFL and setting up an LLC of my own so that I can at least do minor tasks.”

Sam plans to further his education while he’s serving, either by continuing in the SDI Associate degree program or by enrolling in a bachelor program elsewhere. He’d like to eventually obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Business.

After he retires, Sam is hoping to find a position on the business side of the firearms industry.

“My ideal job, especially taking into account my desire to work with firearms, would be to work in the research and development department of a major firearms manufacturer,” he says.

Both Sam and Brianna say they’re tactile learners. Sam is exited to start the AR-10 Advanced Armorer course as his Capstone Project, and Brianna says her build process was her favorite part.

“I got to do the AR-15 build and that was really fun—not only to have the equipment on hand but to have that knowledge and to be able to go step-by-step instead of just reading it in a book somewhere and trying to imagine how it’d go,” she explained. “It was really helpful to be able to actually finish the project and make the mistakes that I did so I’d know how to correct them and move on from there.”

As a student in the first half of his Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate, Sam jokes that being an SDI student is “like excitedly drinking from a water hose…it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve learned a lot, and it’s a lot of material in a short amount of time.”

The Student Ambassador term lasts for 4 months, and Sam and Brianna will each be submitting videos and insights about his or her time as an SDI student from now until their term completion date at the end of December. This weekend, they’ll be travelling to Georgia for the Iraqveteran8888 Shoot, where they’ll meet firearms media organizations, mingle with sponsoring companies…and shoot lots of guns.

We at SDI are proud to have students like Brianna and Sam, and we look forward to watching their progress over the next few months as Student Ambassadors.

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Featured Field Study Partner: Taurus Holdings, Inc.

Sonoran Desert Institute Partners with Taurus Holdings for Field Study Program

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI), an industry leader in providing accredited and accelerated distance learning, is pleased to announce a new Field Study partnership with one of the nation’s largest and most respected firearms manufacturers, Taurus® Holdings, Inc. The SDI Field Study program provides an innovative opportunity for students and alumni to learn from some of the best firearm manufacturers and training facilities in the industry, and now that opportunity is also available at Taurus Holdings.

Headquartered in Miami, Taurus Holdings, Inc. owns or represents some of the most recognized and valued brands worldwide, including Taurus®, Rossi® and Heritage™. Known as an innovator within the firearms industry, Taurus Holdings is a leader offering quality and value-packed firearms to the United States and Canada. Taurus International services all Taurus brand firearms under the Unlimited Lifetime Repair Policy™ as well. Taurus Holdings companies offer a wide variety of products for sale, ranging from single-action revolvers to pistols and long guns.

“SDI Field Study opportunities provide our students and graduates with an unprecedented means for hands-on training in the firearm industry, and we’re very excited to have those opportunities now available with Taurus Holdings,” says SDI Vice President Wes LeMay. “Not only will selected Field Study participants work hands-on with a renowned gun manufacturer and repair department, they will reap the benefit of being part of SDI’s first paid Field Study opportunity. This four-week training session is sure to be an invaluable addition to a student’s SDI education, as they work and learn tricks of the trade alongside the highly trained and professional Taurus gunsmiths.”

In the Field Study program, approved applicants receive free hands-on and on-site training for two to four weeks with SDI-partner companies in the firearm industry. Field Studies are selective, and eligible candidates must be enrolled in SDI Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree program or Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate program and have completed at least 60 percent of their coursework. SDI graduates are also eligible. There is no cost to participate, but students are responsible for travel and living expenses for the duration of the Field Study. For more information, visit or email

Sonoran Desert Institute is an accredited online school providing undergraduate degree and certificate programs in firearms technology. Sonoran Desert Institute offers a 60 semester-credit Associate of Science degree in Firearms Technology program and it is one of the most complete firearms educational programs of its kind. The program prepares students for personal development and/or employment in the custom gun trade, from entry-level employees to small business owners. Students learn about custom firearms, stocks, rifles, handguns, shotguns, metal refinishing, ballistics, metal work and engraving, and business principles necessary to become a gunsmith. For students looking to hone their gunsmithing skills, learn the techniques needed to operate a gunsmithing business, gain a valuable credential or expand their hobby into a career, SDI also offers a 32 semester-credit Advanced Gunsmithing Certificate.

Sonoran Desert Institute offers high quality, rigorous educational programs. The school has been an innovator since its inception and is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). SDI educational programs are designed predominantly for adult learners, based on principles and practices of active self-learning. Certain SDI programs are also approved for use of the G.I. Bill® and other VA benefits, Federal Student Aid (FSA), and Active Duty Military Tuition Assistance, all based on eligibility.

To learn more about on the highly acclaimed online learning programs at Sonoran Desert Institute, visit or call 800.336.8939.

Located in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sonoran Desert Institute is an accredited online school providing undergraduate degree and certificate programs in allied health, real estate and construction and firearms technology. SDI is dedicated to offering affordable, premium, distance-delivered career education that provides a labor market advantage to its graduates. For more information on Sonoran Desert Institute, call 800.336.8939 or visit

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KC Eusebio With Trophy

SDI-Sponsored Eusebio Wins at the 2016 Steel Challenge, Sets World Record

Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) congratulates world speed shooting champion KC Eusebio for winning the 2016 Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting Championships and setting a new world record.

The event gathered competitors all over the world, from Australia to Japan. The competition was recently held at the Hogue Range in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Sportsmen’s Association (SLOSA). Eusebio won the Carry Optics division with an overall time of 83.25 seconds — a new world record — and he won by more than six seconds using his Zev Tech carry optics pistol.

“SDI was essential in my victory to secure the prestigious title,” says Eusebio. “Without SDI’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my dreams. It’s an honor representing a first of its kind school.”

Well-known for his performance on the Hot Shots TV-series, Eusebio is an International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) and United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) member and Steel Challenge action shooting competitor. He was named the youngest USPSA Master at the age of 10, and he is a four-time Open World Steel Challenge Speed Shooting Champion and four-time Open U.S. National Steel Challenge Speed Shooting Champion.

“KC is as one of the best shooters of our time, and we congratulate him an amazing victory,” says SDI Vice President Wes LeMay. “Our sponsorship of K.C. gives SDI new and unique opportunities to educate people about the benefits of attending SDI as well as to develop a greater appreciation for firearm education.”

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Deerassic Sports Show

SDI Represents at 2016 Deerassic Classic

The Deerasic Classic Giveaway and Outdoor Expo is an annual event held in Cambridge, Ohio. This unique weekend is more than the average gun show. The massive two-day event includes raffles, prize giveaways, vendor booths, food and drinks, stage shows, celebrities, and much more. The prizes include vacations, firearms, vehicles, side-by-sides, and cash! SDI’s own Garett Bischoff was at this year’s event and had a lot to say about the experience. “What makes this event unique is that it is much more than a typical sportsmen’s expo. It is a two-day event combined with camping and concerts both nights, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes, gun raffles, and vehicles!”

This year, about 30,000 people attended the Classic. Among the thousands of attendees who came out to the event was Rik Charpia. “It was great to have the chance to talk with Rik Charpia, a recent graduate from SDI, who had nothing but great things to say about the school and our teams,” Biscoff recalled.

He also noted the importance of SDI being a part of the event. “I think events like these are good for SDI to attend—not so much from an ‘interest form’ point of view, but from an exposure standpoint. When we set up large expo booths at events like these, we stand out above all others. That leaves a lasting imprint of who we are.”

Tickets for the 2017 Deerasic Classic Giveaway and Outdoor Expo will go on sale December 1. We hope to see you stop by our table! Click HERE for more information.


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SDI Student Joshua Stevens Wins Gun Digest Writing Contest


We are so pleased to announce that Gun Digest has selected an article written by SDI student and grad Joshua Stevens as the winning submission for the SDI-Gun Digest Writing Competition. His work, titled “The Rise of 80 Percent Firearms,” has been published and is currently featured on

Josh’s 2,000+ word submission is both thorough and interesting to read. We appreciate the combination of personal anecdotes, product and process reviews, and background information. If you’re interested in reading Josh’s in-depth look at building out 80 percent receivers, visit the published article HERE.

When we reached out to Josh for some insights on the writing contest process, he responded with a note worth publishing in its own right. He says:

Currently, I am an Army Infantryman stationed in Ft. Bliss, Texas, with ten years’ time in service. At this time I am going through the process to be medically retired after being injured during one of my deployments. During this process, I received a partnership opportunity as a gunsmith, with an existing gun range and shop in Oklahoma called the Yellow Rose Firing Range. This offer was largely based upon my background, deployment history, and firearm experience, but it was contingent upon me being a certified gunsmith. This requirement is what lead me to enroll in the Advanced Gunsmithing Program through SDI which I originally chose solely because they accepted my GI Bill. I graduated that program in February of this year, I enjoyed the course so much I almost immediately enrolled in the Associates of Firearm Technology program.

When I first heard about the writing contest I thought it was a neat idea, and the chance to become a published gunsmith before even opening my shop had a great deal of appeal to me. But to be completely honest, I didn’t think I stood a chance to win–my writing has always been average at best–so I blew the contest off at first. After some prodding and support from my family, I decided to give it a shot despite my reservations…after all nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the time, I looked at it as a chance to practice my writing and learn how the publishing process works, and since the whole goal of school is to learn new things I figured looking at the contest in that context meant that I almost had to participate.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when my submission was accepted and I made it passed the first step. I honestly figured I would have gotten laughed out of the proverbial door before even starting. To describe what I felt when I found out I had actually won would be impossible. The whole time I intended to do my best, have fun, and write about something I enjoyed. To me, just doing those three things was its own reward; to actually win was amazing and something I didn’t expect to happen at all. It’s been really neat to see all the progress SDI has made since I started going to school with them early last year, and to see them continue to progress and offer all of these opportunities to students and Alumni really makes me excited to see what the future holds for SDI and very proud to be part of that future.

Josh Stevens

Please join us in congratulating Josh Stevens, SDI student (and graduate!), and an outstanding example of the SDI student body. Great job, Josh!

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SDI Partners with Gun Digest For Student Publication Opportunity

Education is the first step in starting a new career in the firearms industry, but Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) has launched a new program that goes far beyond education and is designed to create employment opportunities for students even before they graduate. SDI is now working closely with the editorial staff of Gun Digest to publish students’ work and to help build industry-wide name recognition for the students and their expertise.

Gun Digest is a longtime firearms-industry leader that has a publishing history that reaches back into the golden age of World War II, with its inaugural 1944 first edition of the Gun Digest annual book. Gun Digest the Magazine, which is published bi-weekly, offers shooting enthusiasts the best and most current gun news, and firearms for sale. Plus, it features great articles from the best gun writers in the country. Plus, features articles from book and magazine authors, as well as Gun Digest editors, and video reviews of guns and new accessories for shooting.

“Gun Digest is one of the world’s leading authority on guns and firearms, including gun values, gun prices, gun collecting and reloading, so it’s a real pleasure to work with their editorial staff to publish the work of SDI students online,” says Zeke Stout, SDI Department Chair of the SDI School of Firearms Technology. “A degree in firearms technology is just the first step. Our partnership with Gun Digest, as well as other businesses within the firearms industry, help us to provide our students with real career opportunities after graduation.”

SDI students submitting articles must be an actively enrolled as a full-time student and must be in good academic standing. Articles must meet SDI editorial guidelines and will be reviewed and edited by SDI prior to submission to Gun Digest. To learn more about how you can participate, visit click HERE.

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SDI Student of the Month: Brianna Phillips

Student-of-the-Month_Facebook Firearms have been a part of Brianna Phillips’ life every step of the way, and now they’ll be an even bigger part of her future. “I was always into firearms,” Brianna said. “I mean, I grew up with my dad and I always shooting. He carries every single day and has for the past 18-plus years. He’s always been a huge firearms advocate, so I enjoyed growing up around them.”

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Advisory Board Spotlight with Ray Vaughn


It’s been said that knowledge gained through experience is superior and more useful than bookish knowledge, and there are few individuals who exemplify that more than Ray Vaughn of Jonesboro, Ga. With more than 20 years of professional gunsmithing experience, Vaughn’s knowledge far exceeds any textbook, and the Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) is pleased to welcome him back as a member to the SDI Advisory Board.

Vaughn is a full-time professional gunsmith with experience ranging over more than two decades. He has spent time working for the Ginn group as a contractor, as well as at Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem as a depot level armorer. He holds multiple certificates of training from Colt, Glock, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson and more.

“Ray Vaughn is no newcomer to the firearms industry, and we’re very pleased to have him on the SDI Advisory Board,” says SDI Executive Director of Strategic Development Wes LeMay. “Ray knows all the tricks of the trade and he is always willing to share his knowledge with other gunsmiths and firearms enthusiasts. He is a true professional whose volume of knowledge serves as an inspiration to SDI students and alumni alike.”

Vaughn has also joined the production line-up of free, educational SDI Webinars. He recently guest hosted a SDI webinar during which Vaughn discussed common troubleshooting techniques for some of the most popular platforms, including AR-10/AR-15, 10/22, AK and Glock. The webinar was a huge success, and Vaughn will be guest hosting more educational webinars in the future. Based on Vaughn’s knowledge and experience as well as the viewer feedback from his first webinar, there’s no doubt these will be ‘must see’ events.

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