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Veteran and Engineering Student Overcomes Adversity

U of I Idaho Falls master’s student Deleon Thompson works toward his goal of a career in engineering field.

Deleon Thompson always knew that life wasn’t going to be simple. He knew that in order to get where he wanted to, he needed to follow his life motto: survive, accomplish, exceed and give back.

Surviving On His Own

Thompson grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. His family was poor. His mother had a serious addiction to drugs. Violence in his community was not uncommon. Growing up, he knew he had to be responsible for his family. When most children receive $20, they spend their money on candy or toys. Thompson would spend any money he received on getting his family to school or making sure his family had something to eat.

There were only three ways to get out of Thompson’s neighborhood — sports, school or the military. Being eligible for one of those options meant a lot of work, especially for a child without a mentor.

“Coming from a neighborhood like that, you don’t see outside help,” Thompson said. “You had to survive on your own.”

It was through a research project during his sophomore year of high school that Thompson was inspired to learn how to make remote control cars. He recognized his calling in life: to become an electrical engineer.

“I knew then what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get there,” said Thompson. “All of this was new to me.”

The one thing that Thompson knew was that his only way out of his neighborhood was to join the military and then go on to receive an education. In 1999, just before his senior year of high school, Thompson signed with the United States Marine Corps.

Profile Photo of Deleon Thompson
Deleon Thompson

Serving His Country

For five years, Thompson served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a navigational aids technician. He acted as a technician for aircraft controller’s equipment — tracking aircraft on the radars, communicating with pilots and using navigation systems to know where everyone was at any given time.

After those five years, and realizing the physical toll on his body, Thompson decided to join the Air Force Reserves as a cook, and then later join the National Guard as a computer networker. Each position he held within the military was one that he knew would bring him closer to his educational goals.

“Throughout my career, there were people underestimating what I was capable of,” Thompson said

But he was determined to create a better life for himself and leave his past behind.

“I made it a point to prove people wrong and exceed my own expectations,” he said. He ran after every opportunity he could — and succeeded. Thompson’s favorite phrase? “I told you so.”

Thompson loved his time serving in the military but, ultimately, knew he needed to focus on his education. In 2012, he ended his military service and enrolled in school full-time.

In January 2017, he began pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering with a power systems and nuclear engineering emphasis from the College of Engineering at the University of Idaho in Idaho Falls. He hopes to graduate in 2021 and then go on to receive his professional engineer (PE) license.

Even though Thompson just started his classes this last spring, he has already grown an appreciation for the professors he works with.

“The staff is more helpful than any school I’ve been to,” Thompson said. “Bigger universities tend to push their students in and out like cattle. You have to know what’s going on in order to keep up. Here in Idaho Falls, it’s more open. The staff always helps me before I even ask for it.”

The ability to stay in his hometown and still gain an education was a major draw for him to join the program.

“You can take it from anywhere in the world. You don’t have to quit school if you decide to move or change jobs,” Thompson said.

Thompson currently works for Walsh Engineering Service, PC as an electrical engineer. Most of his time is spent talking to clients and doing research on solutions for building electrical system modifications, expansions or upgrades in accordance with the National Electrical Code.

Overcome Obstacles

Throughout his life, Thompson has learned to be truthful to himself, to have the courage to overcome obstacles and stick to his guns and to be committed to getting where he wants to go.

“The world owes you nothing,” Thompson said. “Don’t let a closed door stop you from being who you want to be or going where you want to go. Survive your situation, accomplish the goals that you set, exceed expectations and give back to your community.”

Article by Molly Tolman for Idaho Falls Magazine.

Published in the February 2018 issue of Idaho Falls Magazine.

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Idaho Falls, ID 83402

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