by Neree Aron-Sando
Axel Swanson served two tours of duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He wasn’t going to allow a little thing like traffic to get between him and a Montgomery County Community College Engineering degree.
“There’s nothing like an hour commute to get to a class that starts at 8 a.m.!” Swanson said.
Swanson faced other, more serious challenges, too, in pursuit of the degree he picked up at the College’s Commencement in May.
“Being out of school for so long before returning was tough at first, but I was able to handle that,” the 28-year-old Pottstown man said. “I encourage every young student to stick with it no matter what they have to do. It is not easy being introduced back into continuing education, adjusting to being a father of a beautiful little girl, Lily, and working to provide for my family.”
Swanson served more than seven years in the U.S. Army. He was stationed for three years at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 18th Airborne Corps and served two deployments overseas, from 2004 through 2006. The rest of his time, he served in the National Guard.
“My wife gave birth to our first child the day before my very first college class started. I have been enrolled as full time student since I began. Even through the summers, I’ve taken three or four classes between summer [semesters],” Swanson said.
After graduation, Swanson plans to continue working at S&W Metal Products in Gilbertsville, where he is an engineer’s assistant while attending school full time.
His education started paying dividends even before he earned his degree.
“As a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics [STEM] program student, I was able to get an engineering job primarily from the skills I learned using SolidWorks in an Engineering Graphics class I took at the College,” he said.
“At S&W Metal Products, I was part of a group that contributed some design ideas to a valued customer. This resulted in us getting the project and getting a patent on the design.”
Swanson chose Montgomery County Community College for his associate’s degree because he lived within five minutes of the Pottstown campus – notwithstanding the fact that most of his classes were offered at the Blue Bell campus.
“It takes me 45 minutes to an hour to get from Pottstown to Blue Bell Campus — without traffic. That is the campus that the majority of the engineering courses are taught, Swanson said. “My biggest challenge was time management. I didn’t want to miss out on any part of raising my daughter. I am making sure to get all my homework done while spending all my remaining time with my wife Ashley. She is the one that sacrificed the most during my schooling. Working 30 hours a week, attending school full time along with homework took a lot of my time so you can imagine that there wasn’t a whole lot of time for my family.”
He stayed at the College for a number of reasons, not the least of which was reasonable cost of tuition.
“I received the Pell grant during my final year, and I don’t know why I didn’t apply for them during my first year at the College,” Swanson said. “Since I served in the Army, I was able to use my Post 911 GI Bill benefits, which is one of the main reasons I chose to go back to school.”
All challenges met, Swanson picked up his diploma in May and is enjoying his achievement, however briefly, before he begins to work toward his bachelor’s and, ultimately, his master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.
“I will be taking a few semesters off before returning to school to get my bachelor’s degree,” he said, but he’s not sure at which college or university he will study.
“I hope that I will be an inspiration for my daughter, not only because of my service to my country, but because I chose to return to school eight years after graduating from high school,” Swanson said. “I also hope that she appreciates that I did this for her so that she can have a better childhood than I had. Isn’t that every parent’s dream? When — if — she plans on attending college, I hope that she knows what her passion is so that she can go right after her dreams!”