Kennesaw State student balances coursework, deployment and job with positive attitude

KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 16, 2022

Dylan Sandoval’s path toward a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Kennesaw State University has come with some unexpected detours, including one that sent him 7,500 miles away. 

Sandoval is a Georgia native and first-generation college student who moved to Kennesaw to attend KSU. After his freshman year, Sandoval enlisted in the National Guard and expected to serve locally. When he returned from basic training in 2018, however, he received life-changing news. 

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“The unit I got sent to told me that we were getting activated and deployed to Afghanistan in early 2019,” Sandoval said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I enlisted, but I did not think I would be immediately deployed.” 

He had to put his coursework on hold and switch gears to a very different experience across the globe. 

“I got to learn a lot about the people’s culture over there,” Sandoval said. “The Afghans we worked with were very nice, humble people. We did run into a lot of danger, but it was a very eye-opening experience.” 

Sandoval returned to the U.S. on July 31, 2019, and jumped right back into his coursework at Kennesaw State the next month at the start of fall semester. Though he was back at home, Sandoval had National Guard activations that took him to Atlanta and Washington, D.C. in 2020 and 2021. He credits his own positive outlook on life and his professors at KSU with helping him conquer a multitude of responsibilities. 

“I was actually really surprised when I came home from deployment, how my professors helped me ease in and transition back into regular college life,” Sandoval said. “When I was activated in Atlanta and in Washington, D.C. they never gave me a hard time for missing class and helped me catch up.”  

Many faculty members were also surprised to learn that in addition to being a college student in the National Guard, Sandoval has a part-time job and serves as a hands-on mentor for his two younger siblings. Construction management professor Jacqueline Stephens taught Sandoval in several classes and has been consistently impressed with his work.

“Dylan is a dedicated student who works diligently on all assignments,” Stephens said. “He has strong leadership skills and is very engaging in the class. Dylan is a joy to teach.” 

When asked how he handles the many pressures he faces on top of schoolwork, Sandoval said he is a naturally positive person.

“Regardless of what situation I am in, I always think ahead,” he said. "I’m always looking toward the future. I think about my future goals, and I know that if I push through, I will get there.” 

Sandoval is currently looking toward graduation in May and already has a job with a Georgia construction company waiting for him after completing his studies. His message to other students in the military, or those who are balancing several responsibilities outside of their coursework, is to stay mentally strong. 

“I’m not saying it’s easy, but try to stay positive,” he said. “Don’t give up. Nothing is impossible if you stay strong, keep your head up and look toward the future.” 

– Abbey O’Brien Barrows
Photos by David Caselli 


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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.