He grew up just five I-74 exits away from campus but lifelong Illini fan Nick Vinson took the scenic route to Illinois.
Truth be told, the Oakwood native says now, “I never really thought of UIUC as a realistic option for continuing my education. I grew up in a working middle class family and was intimidated by the expense to consider UIUC as a possibility for me.
“I put myself through my associate degree education (at Danville Area Community College) while working part-time in the construction industry and eventually worked myself into a full-time position.
“Fast-forward seven years. I am now married and continue working in construction. I had worked my way up to a project management position with my employer but always held a desire to continue my education. Nobody in my immediate family had earned a bachelor’s degree, and I wanted to change that.
“My wife, also a UIUC alum, found a program through the College of LAS that was offered almost fully online and which my earned junior college credits would transfer to. I wasted no time in meeting with Dr. (Jonathan) Tomkin to see how good of a fit this would be for me, and me for the program. My major would be Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability.
“Being a non-traditional student, teetering on the edge of part-time and full-time, at 27 years old gave me a whole new perspective on education and what it meant to be a student than what I had at 18 years old. I took this new opportunity very seriously and I wanted to do very well; not only with grades, but with what I got out of it.
“I had many great professors during my time at UIUC, but was most impacted by Dr. Justin Cory Pettijohn. The first few weeks of my first course with Dr. Pettijohn, I remember complaining to my wife about some of the assignments we were given, and his detailed style of instructing. It wasn’t long after that, though, that I was searching for other courses he taught so I could continue my studies under him as much as possible.
“It became apparent to me that Dr. Pettijohn excelled in online teaching. He was using new software, putting in the detail that you would think you could only get in a traditional classroom, and was immensely accessible. All of those things make a large difference to an online student.
“Not only was Dr. Pettijohn doing many great things as an instructor, he also had a background as a sustainability consultant working with many construction projects and clients. This ‘feet on the ground’ experience of his made me feel a heightened level of comfort and commonality.
"Currently, I work as a field operations manager for a nationwide contractor. I continue to use the knowledge I have gained from Dr. Pettijohn and the rest of my UIUC professors both professionally and personally on a daily basis, always trying to find ways to be more environmentally sustainable.
"When I look back at my time at UIUC, I am reminded of the passion, intelligence and dedication that Dr. Pettijohn exhibited for his students and I try to ensure that I am emulating that in my current leadership position as well.”