Sonoran Desert Institute

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

Ramsey Atieh

Meet Ramsey Atieh, SDI’s New Advisory Council Member

Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) has made a new addition to its Advisory Council! Ramsey Atieh is currently president of American Business & Technology University, and while he has already been helping SDI with its curriculum, his influence and guidance as a member of the Advisory Council will be huge.

Ramsey attended Northwest Missouri State University as a football player on scholarship and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. His initial goal while attending school was to be a teacher, but Ramsey has gone on to do much more. After working for a few years as an advisor and mentor to student-athletes and as a coach on the football team, Ramsey decided to attend the University of Missouri, where he received his Doctorate in Education, focusing on educational leadership and policy analysis. Ramsey then stepped into the family business started by his father and brother—American Business and Technology University.

Ramsey’s role at the school initially was as the director of admissions, but it quickly expanded, and he now works as the university’s president. At American Business & Technology University, Ramsey has focused on student performance, dropout rates, and quality of classes, in addition to overseeing the philosophical direction of the school. One of the changes that he has made along the way is focusing on project-based learning over final examinations, which studies have found can lead to more retention of the material learned.

The role that Ramsey Atieh has played in the building of American Business and Technology University cannot be understated. In addition to focusing on his role as president, Ramsey developed the school’s enrollment processes, built tracking processes for student academic activity, and helped to develop individual programs. This dedication has certainly paid dividends as American Business and Technology University has become an impressively successful school.

Sonoran Desert Institute first sought Ramsey’s help three years ago. Since then, Ramsey has helped SDI with its enrollment processes and has personally gone through every single class offered by SDI in order to help refine its coursework. The overall goals and objectives of SDI’s program have become something of a labor of love for Ramsey and is something he is passionate about. “This is a really unique school with an excellent program and a fantastic student base. I really love what SDI has put together,” he said. Ramsey will continue to advise SDI into the future as the school seeks to stay ahead of the curve with the technology used to help students learn as well as with keeping the program updated to ensure student success.

The Atieh family includes Ramsey’s wife and 11-year-old son. They are a very active family and his son is a passionate trap and skeet shooter with his Mossberg® youth mini .410. When he is not working, Ramsey has been spending most of his time with his son, rebuilding a truck to haul his boat as the family takes part in their continuing outdoor adventures as well as turkey hunting in the mountains of Missouri.
SDI is lucky to have an expert of Ramsey’s caliber join such an accomplished Advisory Council and even more fortunate to have found such a good match for the school with his character and values. Welcome to the team, Ramsey Atieh!

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SDI Attends 2018 NRA Annual Meetings

The president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, a new NRA president, a record setting crowd, more firearms than anybody could possibly count, and plenty of Texas hospitality. On May 3–6, ten team members from Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) travelled to Dallas, Texas, to represent the school and participate in the 2018 NRA Annual Meetings.

The 2018 NRA Annual Meetings marked the first time that a sitting United States president and vice president have both spoken at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. (See their speeches here.) Previous attendance records were also broken, with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch stating on Twitter, “New record attendance for #NRAAM: 87,154 law-abiding attendees over the three-day weekend in Dallas. #2A.” The NRA Annual Meetings also began with an invocation by retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, who, on Monday, May 9, was named the NRA’s new president.

The SDI team journeyed to the 2018 NRA Annual Meetings with a new trade show booth, games, prizes, and a jam-packed lineup of guests. The incredible lineup included Tim Harmsen of the Military Arms Channel, Hickok25 and Son, the We Like Shooting crew, 22Plinkster, Chris Barrett of Barrett® Firearms Manufacturing, WCW’s Eric Bischoff, and Taurus™ Firearms, who generously sponsored a handgun giveaway.

Helping with the consistent crowd at SDI’s booth, Hickok45 brought out a huge number of fans, the We Like Shooting cast put on a talent show, and a very large crowd gathered for a chance to meet WCW’s Eric Bischoff. SDI’s biggest celebrity of the weekend was its constantly clicking prize wheel, which gave the SDI team ample opportunities to chat with the public about the school as well as make sure they were loaded up with SDI gear.

SDI’s Jennifer McInnis had this to say, “This was far and away the best NRA Annual Meeting show that SDI has ever had. The booth was packed with people for four days and there was a lot of enthusiasm throughout the event.”

While SDI’s primary mission was to operate their trade show booth, the team also found time for several additional activities, such as attending a leadership board meeting which included firearms instructor Dan O’Kelly, shooting champion KC Eusebio, firearms trainer Rob Pincus, and shooting champion Jessie Harrison. SDI also held a student/industry mixer where students had the opportunity to network with each other as well as with industry professionals like Taurus Firearms and firearms instructor Dan O’Kelly. These activities were a resounding success with the leadership team in helping to decide the future of Sonoran Desert Institute, while the student/industry mixer was filled with food, fun, and smiling faces.

The 2018 NRA Annual Meetings represented an opportunity to spread the word about Sonoran Desert Institute’s accredited academic programs and to help the school continue its positive growth. The event was a success across the board and Sonoran Desert Institute looks forward to participating in it for years to come!

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CCME Symposium

SDI Attends 2018 CCME Symposium

This year’s Council of Colleges for Military Education’s (CCME) Professional Development Symposium was held in San Diego, California, on March 26–30, 2018. Sonoran Desert Institute’s Walter Howard attended and had this to say, “I felt more prepared to attend this year than I have in years past, and there was a much-needed focus on what concurrent sessions to attend that will benefit organizations such as Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI) as it continues to grow. Every day started with a keynote speaker, which consisted primarily of Navy Seals, and kicked off sessions to attend that generated small group discussions.”

Building Alliances for Veteran Support. This presentation discussed how the University of Phoenix uses alliances to provide support and resources in areas such as transitioning to civilian life, career readiness, and mental health, ultimately helping veterans to achieve their academic, professional, and personal goals.

Collaboration on Campus and with the Community: Epic Steps to Veteran Victory. University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) overcame obstacles and created solutions in serving student veterans. A lot of discussions took place on how they have engaged their student veterans in the community.

Engaging Student Veterans in the Greater Community. A variety of common obstacles are preventing student veterans from connecting to and engaging with opportunities. Transition theories were discussed as topics on the number of veterans that don’t transition from military service.

How to Best Serve Military Students. Participants reviewed military-connected student populations provided by the University of Oklahoma College of Professional and Continuing Education, which has developed a policy for deployed students and has resulted in the college being recognized as a “military friendly” institution.

Is it Hoo-ah, Hoo-rah, or Hoo-yah?: Military-Affiliated Populations as a Cultural Identity on Campus. The University of Northern Colorado made the UNC Veterans Services a cultural center on campus as part of the newly formed Office of Equity and Inclusion. This change has allowed Veterans Resources to focus more readily on the cultural issues that military-affiliated students experience when attending college. While college spaces for veterans differ in size and resources, it is essential to show colleges how adopting a cultural lens can benefit their student population.

Next Set of Orders: Best Practices for Colleges to Ensure Student Success and Military/Veteran Focus. University of San Francisco (USF) discussed their “best practices” that have developed a solid structure facilitating success for our military and veteran students, and included developing a military liaison role, recognition strategies, and “Boots on the Home Front” and “Got your Six” initiatives.

Virtual Green Zone: Online Military Orientation Training for Staff and Faculty. Among topics highlighted were the characteristics of the military-connected learner and the military experience, the transition process, and the role that institutions of higher learning play. The training is delivered using the Adobe Connect platform and is comprised of video testimonials from student veterans, military-connected staff, and faculty members. University of Maryland University College (UMUC) provides their faculty/staff with “digital badges” for those that complete the training.

SDI is continuing to grow as a school and with that comes an increased effort to ensure the success of its students. Conferences, such as the 2018 CCME Professional Development Symposium, help to give SDI the tools to make sure this happens. The attendance of these conferences is driven by SDI’s dedication to American service members as well as non-service member students. As SDI continues to grow and improve, stay tuned for updates on future conferences as well as new student programs!

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Meet Tabitha Reynolds, SDI’s newest Field Representative

Meet Tabitha Reynolds, Sonoran Desert Institute’s (SDI’s) newest SDI Field Representative. She has a quiet and unassuming persona but don’t let that fool you, she is a twelve-year veteran of the United States Army. Tabitha’s service saw her as an MP for eight years and a career counselor for four years. This experience combined with one and a half years working in VA Outreach helping veterans adjust to civilian life has built someone who is passionate about helping veterans and steadfast in finding the best fit for potential students. In other words, she’s the perfect fit as an SDI Field Representative for SDI.

Tabitha has been around the military her entire life. Her father was in the United States Air Force and she spent most of her youth moving with her family to various bases. By the time she graduated High School, the military seemed like the most viable option for someone such as her, still trying to find her place. She wanted to figure out her future path and she wanted to prove herself as a strong and capable woman. She picked the right path. Tabitha did not quite know what to expect when she joined the United States Army and what she found took her by surprise. “All of a sudden I’m surrounded by commotion, tanks, and rifles. It was awesome!” She said. While basic training can be a chore for some, this was not the case with Tabitha. “Honestly, basic training was a blast. It was like one giant adventure camp. It was grueling, but I loved it.”

Tabitha found her way to the SDI family by accident. She was initially investigating it as a possibility for her husband to attend. Her Platoon Sergeant, Walter Howard, SDI’s Director of Military and Veteran Services, “who she refers to as her Army dad,” worked with SDI so she reached out to him for information. Having known of her background as a career counselor, it was not long before Walter offered her a job. In December of 2018, Tabitha started working for SDI and her husband is now a student. For Tabitha, SDI is definitely a family affair.

While SDI has many perks for Tabitha such as a family-like atmosphere and the ability to help find the right fit for potential students, her favorite perk of her job is the travel. As Tabitha stated, “I absolutely love how each region of the United States has its own culture, a way of communicating, and different interests. It’s definitely not boring.” So far, her favorite experience was the Arizona Game and Fish Department Outdoor Expo. “I got to shoot an M249 at the Expo. It had been a few years since I had operated one so it was great to know that I could still handle it!”

In her off time, Tabitha spends as much time as possible with her three children and her husband, “Also an Army veteran.” She takes a keen interest in her husband’s school work since he is enrolled at SDI. She enjoys camping, fishing, and target shooting. Tabitha see’s her position at SDI as full of potential with the opportunity to grow the school. Her driving ambition as an SDI Field Representative is to find a student that will take the program seriously in order to ensure their success. Her favorite question, “Do you really want this?” Tabitha has found several terrific fits for the SDI program and it can be a sure bet that she will find many more. Sonoran Desert Institute is lucky to have staff like Tabitha Reynolds!

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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?

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Holiday Blog Banner

Getting your business in order for the holidays.

Yes, the holidays are here. The weather is cold and people are staying inside. So, how do you take advantage of the season to benefit your business, gain new customers, and stay on top of the potential increase in business? We have some suggestions for you!

Christmas and New Year’s bring out consumer spending in droves. According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season represents nearly 20 percent of total yearly sales. While gunsmithing itself is more of a service industry, several gunsmithing businesses do have retail as a part of their business. Service industries, such as restaurants, can also be an indicator of an uptick in business for the overall service industry during the holidays (USA Today). So how do you use this to your advantage without going crazy during the process?

  1. Prepare

    Nothing can drown a business like not being prepared to take on new business. If your tools are not in order, your retail is not stocked, if you run out of paperwork, or if your filing system is not organized, you could find yourself swimming and overwhelmed. Get yourself together down to where your paperwork is filed. Do you have a stack of paperwork you haven’t filled out yet? Now would be a good time to take care of that. Clean your shop, stock any retail you wish to sell, and make sure you have effectively tracked your backlog for any outstanding work that should be completed before an influx of business.

  2. Get Congenial

    You are the face of your business. If Christmas gives you a case of the grumps, you should probably brush it off in lieu of a friendly, outgoing demeanor. It might seem unnecessary, but your primary duty as a business owner, especially in a business where you work on firearms that carry emotional attachment by your customers, is to make your customer feel at ease.

  3. Have a Sale

    In the spirit of Black Friday and post-Christmas, hold sales during the holidays. And the firearms industry is in a special position for the post-Christmas season. As a potential customer, after that special someone gives you a brand new holographic site or a new walnut stock, you’ve got to find someone to make sure it’s installed correctly. Try running a promotion as simple as giving a discount on service that provides a referral, or offer something a little more straightforward like discounted engraving, a deal on firearms seasonal maintenance, or maybe double down and discount all your services for a limited period. Make sure the sale inspires your audience to make a move by limiting the time your deal is offered.

  4. Update Your Website

    It’s 2017 and your website is as much of an indicator of the quality of your services as your experience itself. If you have a website that looks like it was designed in the 90’s by a teenage relative, you are most likely missing out on potential business. Consumers will take a hard pass on a service that looks like it does not care how it presents itself. People like bright and shiny, and your website should be able to provide it. Your website is also an excellent place to post your seasonal sale!

  5. Advertise

    Marketing can be daunting, but without getting the word out, nobody has any idea you exist. For those of you that can afford it, you can place ads in local publications and on local websites. Make sure they are high-traffic publications and do your research to make sure they target your consumer audience. For example, if your local gun club has a newsletter, it may be a good place for an ad. On the other hand, if your local gardening store has a newsletter, it may not be the best use of your advertising budget.

Let’s pretend you have absolutely zero budget for any kind of special holiday ads. You still have resources available. If you’ve performed your due diligence and gathered the email addresses of your past customers, you can send a bulk email to them advertising your service. Try to use a service like MailChimp or Hatchbuck to do this. If your past customers get annoyed, they may report your email as spam. If that goes back to your business email, it can affect future emails and potentially blacklist your email address. Using one of the services mentioned can prevent this from happening.

Or maybe you’re not tech savvy. You can accomplish advertising your business by sitting down and simply calling your past customers. This is where offering a discount on referrals can help. Finally, get social. Most of us have social media. Most small businesses maintain social media of some kind. This is the cheapest way to reach a large consumer audience.

Christmas time can be stressful for consumers and business owners. By using just one of these steps, you can eliminate some of it. Are these the only things you can do to help your business during the holidays? Absolutely not. There’s always the possibility of parachuting over your town while towing a banner with your sale on it. The key is to pick your pace, get the word out, and participate in the spirit of the season. Have any ideas for increasing business during the holidays? Post them on our Facebook page:

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SDI Webinar: Nick Koumalatsos, “Ok I found my passion. Now What?”

If you missed our webinar this month, have no fear. We have it all posted right here.

Guest speaker: Nick Koumalatsos

Topic: “Ok I found my passion. Now What?”

What does it take to “get out of your own way” and pursue your goals?
Nick explains what it takes to fulfill your dreams, free yourself from personal pain and self-sabotage and live your passion.

Nick Koumalatsos: Speaker Profile

Nick is a 12 year Special Operations Marine Corps veteran with Marine Reconnaissance and Marine Special Operations Command. He has deployed in support of OIF/OEF and other places all over the world. Has trained foreign police, military, and militia in several countries.

His military career prepared him for successful leadership and strategic operational planning. Nick is the founder and CEO of Alexander Industries as well as a successful adventure + informational YOUTUBE channel with his partner Alison Capra. From adventures to Iceland to concealed carry handgun tips, this channel is a peek into Nick’s daily life as a VLOG.

Nick has heart for his community first and foremost. It is his life mission to see his brother’s success. Nick started The Raider Project. His mission is to connect with MARSOC and other USMC combat veterans to help them transition smoothly, peacefully and successfully into the private sector. Nicholas also recently started Robin Hood Pictures. This is a project he is very passionate about. He set out to produce movies FOR THE PEOPLE. Without a religious or political agenda. Movies that set us apart for telling the stories of the men who have given everything for their country. Men who have altered the course of our history. To paint a picture of the struggle with a transition from the wages of war. His hopes that the movie he produces will be an eye-opening portrayal of what our modern day veterans are facing. These stories don’t always have happy endings, but they have significant ones. Nick hopes to inspire action for the veteran community and celebrate their successes.

A life of adventure and excitement. Nick resides in North Carolina with his girlfriend, Alison, his two daughters and their dog Leo. He spends his free time on the water or traveling to see his family in Greece.

For more information on Nick’s affiliations:

  1. USMC Prep 12 Week Marine Corps Recruit Training Prep Program
  2. YouTube – Nick’s Weekly Vlog (BE PREPARED SERIES)
  3. Spartan Carton – Nick fitness subscription box.
  4. The Raider Project – Veteran Non-Profit

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Finding Success in Online Education: By Mike Petronella

Taking online classes in the comfort of your own home can sound too good to be true. Too good to be true? Not so fast. This situation can be ideal, but there are some unique challenges to this format of learning.

The major benefit of online instruction is flexibility. You have the flexibility to do your assignments on your time, but this can also lead to problems. This flexibility can lead to procrastination, which can lead to late and or missing assignments. It takes exceptional discipline to be a successful online student. What does it mean to be a disciplined online student? One must have the determination to set aside the time required to absorb the material and complete the work each week.

I have been teaching for SDI for two years now, and I have found that successful students share some of the following traits or habits:

    1. They set aside a block of time each week for study. This block of time is always on the same day and time. Think of it as going to a brick and mortar “classroom,” but this classroom is just your own home or workspace. Make sure that this time is not the evening before the assignment is due. Nothing is perfect, so things can go wrong. I have seen computers crash, internet outages, power outages, or just plain old family emergencies create situations that the student can’t recover from if their class time is the evening before a paper is due.


    1. Set up a secure workspace. What I mean by secure is one that is isolated from interruptions. It is hard to absorb and retain information with constant distraction.


    1. Make sure that you are computer-literate. No, you don’t need to be an expert or a software developer, but you do need to be comfortable with email, message boards, word processing, and taking and sending digital photographs, as well as have basic operational knowledge of computers.


    1. Ask questions! You would be surprised how often students don’t ask questions. Ask questions ahead of time. Don’t wait until there is a problem. Avoid potential problems by asking questions.


    1. Be proactive as a student. All too often, a student will see an issue with their work, encounter an obligation that interferes with school, encounter financial trouble, or have trouble coordinating schedules to have a conversation with staff. These situations can be frustrating, but they can also easily be solved by being proactive and communicating clearly with instructors, academic advisors, or the school finance team. It’s important to understand that online schools are talking to hundreds of students per day, and unless you are proactive in communicating possible issues, it is hard for the staff to address your concerns.


All this might make online learning sound difficult, but just like any other type of school, you will get out of it what you put into it. Online education is a matter of convenience for the student and will require trade-offs, such as discipline on behalf of the student. By following steps such as setting aside time, securing a distraction-free workspace, getting comfortable with computers, asking questions, and being proactive, you can help yourself to have the best online education experience possible.

Mike Petronella’s knowledge goes far beyond study tips. He’ll be sharing his vast insight on the business side of the firearms industry with us in an upcoming webinar. Click here to register and learn from a pro!

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