GRAD SPEAK: Sitting Down with 2023 DEAC Outstanding Graduate, Owen Chambers

  • Drew Poplin

Until recently, Owen spent much of his life calling Louisiana his home. It was there that he would create formative memories of growing up, being around his family, meeting his wife, and getting his education. Bouncing around the state, Owen attended Louisiana Tech, LSU, and ultimately the University of New Orleans, where he graduated with a degree in business.

Owen would later go back to school, first receiving a bachelor’s degree in computer science and then transitioning into a career in network engineering. Around a year and a half after graduating, the intrigue of education popped up again as he started seeing advertisements on YouTube for an online school called Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI).

However, he never considered himself to be the strongest student, and the prospect of going back to school was not necessarily on his radar. However, the winds of change, specifically, the threat of Hurricane Ida, would play a role in changing his mind.

Road Trip Revelations

As the threat of Hurricane Ida approached ever closer to the shores of Louisiana, Owen and his wife decided that they needed to start planning for evacuation. Not knowing where to go, they eventually landed on the idea of staying in Chattanooga, Tennessee. However, the drive from Gonzales, LA (where they had their home), to Chattanooga is roughly an 8-hour drive, meaning there was plenty of time to chat in the car.

Describing the trip, Owen recalled, “It was one of those long road trips where you’re just having those deep, profound conversations like, ‘What do you want to do for the rest of your life?’ And I was like, ‘I love network engineering, but what I love more is working with other people and working with my hands and getting to know the people that I’m working with.’ So I started talking about SDI and she was the one that actually mentioned it and she was like, ‘Well, you should, enroll there.’”

Despite his hesitancy about attending school again, the visions of what this possible future could look like still intrigued Owen. He made the wise decision to wait around three to four months to see if this passion faded. As it turned out, months later, the desire remained. Keeping his word, he enrolled in SDI’s Associate of Science in Firearms Technology (ASFT) program.

Diving Into SDI

During his time enrolled in the ASFT program at SDI, two courses in particular stood out to Owen: his first class and his final class. Owen explains, “My hands-down favorite class was the AR10 class. It made me realize how much I didn’t know about modern sporting rifle platforms. It really got down to, quite literally, the nuts and bolts of the gun and made me realize how much I didn’t know about assembling an upper and a lower.”

He continues, “The first class was actually really interesting for me, as well. That’s because they touched upon a lot of the history behind basic ballistics and there was a ton of stuff I didn’t know at all. I was soaking all that stuff up. They were sending these really old niche articles and stuff. I thought that was all super interesting. So it’s kind of ironic that my two favorite classes were the first class and the last class.”

That isn’t to say that there weren’t some struggles that Owen faced as, at times, he felt lost on certain subjects. However, it was those issues that led him to do something that would totally alter his SDI experience.

Creating a Community

Knowing that he needed some help, Owen took the unconventional route of creating an unofficial Discord server. Discord is a social platform that allows users to communicate through different media types and has grown into one of the top platforms for creating online communities.

Owen explains, “When I first created the server, it was actually called ‘Class of October,’ because I thought I would just make a server for all the students that I would be going through the program at the same time as myself. That quickly changed once we started getting a lot of traction.”

And gain traction it did. At the time of this writing, the Discord server has reached over 1,200 SDI students and grads. Not only had Owen and his team of moderators created a space to discuss assignments, but it quickly blossomed into a vibrant social hub for its members. Some of the activities include movie nights, giveaways, and playing video games together, and they have channels created for many more interests. He is quick to shower praise on his moderators, to whom he gives a ton of credit for the Discord server’s success.

Reflecting on the Discord server’s importance in his life, Owen states, “I don’t think I could have gone through this program without the connections that I made through the server. Without the conversations with people who had already gone through it or were currently going through it with me. There were several assignments for which I, quite literally, had to get help from other students for advice because I just didn’t understand them.”

On the Horizon

Owen’s efforts in and out of the classroom certainly paid off, resulting not just in his graduation from the ASFT program but by being bestowed the DEAC Outstanding Graduate for 2023 award. It was an honor that still surprises Owen and one he accepts with utmost humility.

In his words, “I knew there were students that each year were selected as the outstanding grad of the year, but I didn’t really comprehend that it would apply to me. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I just never in my mind thought it would be something that I would be elected for. When I got the call and was told that I was, I honestly was stunned because I know some of the students who graduated last year and they’re phenomenal students. Some of them have successful businesses right now and some of them helped me during my time at SDI a lot. So I felt really honored, really humbled. I really couldn’t believe it.”

For now, Owen’s focus has shifted to applying the skills he has accumulated over the years to start his own business. Called Shinobi Gunworks, it will be a superstore where one can enjoy freshly brewed Black Rifle Coffee while having custom work performed on their firearms. He has plans to open the business in the relatively near future, so if you’re in the Chattanooga area, be sure to keep an eye out for Shinobi.

From the classrooms of the University of New Orleans to the digital halls of SDI, and now, towards the skies and entrepreneurial ventures, Chambers exemplifies a journey not defined by a single path but by the continuous exploration of new avenues for growth and connection. As he navigates the challenges and opportunities ahead, we wish to congratulate him on his success and look forward to seeing what the future holds.

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