Among the more than 2,300 students honored at Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College commencement on May 18 were two generations from the same family: Management grad and Marine Corps veteran Nick Deitz, and his son, Seth, who plans to launch his military career after officially completing his management studies in August.
When instructors at Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College first met two students with the last name Deitz in their classes, they thought the two men were brothers. In fact, Nick and Seth are father and son. They first attended Saddleback College in South Orange County together before both transferring to Mihaylo College to earn business degrees.
Nick, the father, devoted himself to earning a college degree after two decades of service with the U.S. Marine Corps, while his son, Seth, is using his business education as a springboard to launch a career with the same branch of the military that his father served.
“My dad would ask me, ‘I’m thinking about going to college, would you have any issues with it?” recalls the younger Deitz. “I would answer, ‘let’s do it, let’s go.’ I was completely for it. My dad understands me better than my friends do. Being in an environment with competition between classes and grades, I never wanted to be seen as a slacker or undisciplined in front of my dad, and that was always a big motivation.”
For the elder Deitz, graduating with a bachelor’s degree at Mihaylo College was the culmination of a long journey that would take him from his native Oregon to five continents and from a 16-year-old military recruit to a university student.
A 20-Year Career in the Service of His Country – Fighting Two Wars and Traveling the World
When Nick Deitz of Eugene, Oregon, was 17 years old, he joined the U.S. Marines and headed off to boot camp.
During his first decade in the service, the world was largely at peace – save for conflicts in the Balkans and flare-ups with North Korea. “During this time, I met my wife, got married and had kids,” says Nick. “The biggest adjustment was being sent to Japan a couple of times for a year apiece, but nothing was really atypical until 9/11, and then everything changed.”
After the attack on the United States, Nick was part of the first Marine unit in Afghanistan with the outbreak of Operation Enduring Freedom, arriving in the Central Asian nation on Jan. 3, 2002.
“It was supposed to be a regularly scheduled deployment in the Western Pacific. We were to go to 14 ports and enjoy ourselves,” he recalls. “Then 9/11 happened; they moved our deployment up six weeks, and we missed Christmas and New Year’s  with our families. It took us about 30 days to get to the Persian Gulf, where we were to support army units with air support, supplies and casualty evacuations.”
Over the next six years, Nick completed four deployments, the first to Afghanistan and the last three to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Nick held a career-planning role, in which he served as an internal recruiter and human resources staff, tasked with attempting to retain outstanding service members, providing career counseling to fellow Marines and ensuring that troops were equipped for their requirements outside of duty.
“My wife is a former Marine herself – she did six-and-a-half years – so when it was time for me to deploy, she was already out and able to support the family. She did an amazing job and was very understanding,” says Nick.
While in Camp Fallujah in 2005, Nick was injured – breaking his arm while playing basketball with his fellow Marines – and was evacuated out of the country. While he recovered after eight weeks of being in a cast, it gave him the status of a disabled veteran.
Nick’s fourth tour of duty was the most active, in which he was part of an infantry battalion that lost a record 19 members during 2006-2007, including a few of his friends. “I never fired my weapon, but I was indirectly shot at with gunfire, mortar fire and rocket fire,” he recalls. “And we were so lucky; we didn’t realize until later that we had driven over an IED [improvised explosive device] that later exploded, but we were unhurt.”
Four deployments in a row finally encouraged Nick’s wife to ask her husband for a career change. The shift led him to pursue embassy duty, guarding U.S. missions abroad. His first assignment was in Copenhagen, Denmark, which he remembers as a high point for his family.
“This was good, because I got to take my family with me,” he says. “Embassy duty was the greatest for my family. Scandinavia and Europe were a blessing.”
His next assignment was recruiting Marines to join the embassy security staff.
Throughout his military career, Nick traveled to virtually all bases where Marines were stationed. Destinations included Australia, Japan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France, Great Britain and Ireland.
After retiring from the service at age 37, Nick and his family settled in Orange County, where the couple had first met while stationed at the former Marine Corps Station El Toro.
“Technically, I could be legitimately retired, living off my pension and disability assistance, but the cost of living doesn’t allow that,” says Nick.
So Nick started his first chapter of civilian life going to trade school with government funding. After earning certification in HVAC and electrical repair, he sought employment in the booming solar energy sector, but found the work too physical and not financially lucrative. Thus, in 2014, he made the decision to enter college for the first time in his life.
College Days – For Father and Son
When Nick registered for Saddleback College, his son, Seth, had recently graduated from Trabuco Hills High School and had already completed a summer session at the South Orange County community college.
While at Saddleback, Nick and Seth took three courses together, covering business law, accounting and horticulture, and both participated in group projects.
“Our work ethic meshed very well,” says Nick. “Once we transferred to Fullerton, we had only one class together. But we had many of the same professors, who recognized the last name. We’re graduating debt free, for me because of my government benefits and for my son because of his status as the son of a disabled retired veteran.”
At Cal State Fullerton, the younger Deitz joined Platoons Leaders Corps (PLC), a program in which students participate in Marine Corps training for six weeks during the summer and return to college life during the academic year.
“Last summer, I graduated from Officer Candidate School. I became a Marine and earned the title, so right now, I’m in limbo,” says Seth. “I have to graduate college and earn my diploma to be commissioned as a second lieutenant, so Aug. 8 is my graduation date from Fullerton and Aug. 24 is my commission as a second lieutenant. Hopefully within a few weeks, I will get my orders to go to training. But who knows if I will make this a long-term career or just spend a few years in the service and then start my own business?”
Looking back at his time at Mihaylo College, Seth points to Management Lecturer Pawan Tomkoria, who teaches MGMT 350 – International Business, and Mark Nguyen, an instructor of MGMT 444 – Project Management, as being pivotal in kindling a passion for business.
His father looks at his capstone professor this past spring – Management Lecturer Sean Jasso – as being particularly memorable. “He was a very tough capstone professor. He provided a lot of information and good stories, making class interesting, and he makes class feel like he’s not teaching, though you’re obviously learning” says Nick. “But he also mentions ‘you will probably write more in this class than in any other for your bachelor’s.’ And I probably did write more in that class than in my entire time at both Saddleback and Fullerton!”
Looking ahead, the elder Deitz hopes to launch a career in civilian federal service using his military experience and college education. He also hopes to continue his higher education, though as his benefits expire with an undergraduate degree, he is hopeful that federal employment will provide opportunities to earn a master’s degree.
The Path to Success as an Adult Re-Entry Student
Looking at a student body that is increasingly diverse in age structure, Nick recognizes that his position has been unique, but tenacity and commitment is the path to success for all adult reentry and non-traditional students.
“I’m in a very lucky circumstance, because being a disabled veteran, I have a pension and disability benefits that I can depend on, and even a housing stipend that covers my rent, so I didn’t have to work while going back to school,” he says. “I recognize most adult reentry students work full-time while in school, which I admire, because I understand how difficult it is. College was challenging for me, even without working.”
“But if a degree is what you want, you’re going to make time for it and will be dedicated enough for it. I wanted this so I did it,” says Nick. “For the other adults entering in, how bad do you want it? If you want it badly enough, go for it, and you will make it happen.”
Nick points to a supportive and versatile network as being invaluable to student success. “There are plenty of people here, whether you are a veteran or not, who will help you achieve your goal. It’s just a matter of finding that initial person who will help guide you to those places that can help you here at Fullerton,” he says. “I didn’t realize that there are ways to go about getting things taken care of without taking out loans. I’ve seen a lot of students – not just veterans – who had staff or professors go out of their way to help them.”
For More on Cal State Fullerton Veterans
For more on resources available to students serving in the military or student veterans, visit the Veterans Resource Center at Cal State Fullerton.