As a child, Evan Kolodey was convinced he was bad at math.
“I was always told, ‘Math isn’t your subject,” he says. “Your parents and siblings were bad at it, so you probably will be, too.’ So I adopted that mentality and avoided it at all costs.”
That avoidance of math led Kolodey to the Marines, “where I thought I’d be safe from it.”
He wasn’t. Kolodey worked as a cyber-network operator and a U.S. Embassy Guard in Iraq, China and Thailand, where he was expected to know a lot of things to do his job — and if he didn’t, he needed to learn them.
“I learned that putting in effort was enough to accomplish anything,” he says.
After seven years in the Marines, Kolodey returned home, unsure of his next steps. Then a friend convinced him to give Lorain County Community College a try.
He says on his first day, in beginning algebra class, he was so lost he thought he was in the wrong classroom. His professor suggested he head to the Math Studio for tutoring, so Kolodey spent the next two years being tutored there as he pursued an associate degree in electrical engineering.
“They had the patience to hold my hand through a problem when I made the same simple mistake for literally the thousandth time, and they let me figure out the problem when they knew I was close to solving it,” he says.
With help from his professors and tutors, Kolodey developed a solid foundation that today is allowing him to excel in engineering school. He says without them, “I would not have made it as far as I have.”
Building that foundation while transitioning from Marine to college student was challenging, but Kolodey learned from his time in the Armed Forces that he thrives in those situations.
A sense of purpose and belonging
Kolodey initially envisioned his college experience as being a lonely grind where he struggled to keep up.
“But I quickly came to realize that everyone in the class shares a common goal, and we all struggle together in our own ways,” he says.
From his time in the Marines, he had developed a mindset of accomplishing tasks as part of a team.
“I never saw being a student as a competition of grades or ego,” he says. “I saw it as an opportunity to use my soft skills from the Marines to help as many people succeed in the class with me as possible.”
With that mentality, Kolodey found ways to help his fellow classmates. He created a worksheet for everyone from the course e-book and made study guides to share with the other students.
“Just like my time in the military, I developed strong bonds with people who were overcoming adversity alongside me,” he says. “And adopting some responsibilities that benefited the whole class gave me a sense of purpose and belonging.”
He calls his time at LCCC a lifestyle, not a task.
“There are times when life is challenging, but the more you embrace the grind when it is required, the better your experience is going to be,” he says. “And it’s not the information you consume here, it’s the intangible problem-solving skills that increase your marketability, both socially and economically.”
Landing at NASA
Kolodey’s perseverance and determination to succeed led him to a project LCCC was working on with NASA and the United States Air Force.
As a result of his studies, he met LCCC Professor of Chemistry Regan Silvestri, Ph.D., and asked if he knew of an aerospace-related project he could participate in.
“I wanted to do work that mattered and that was contributing to the scientific community,” says Kolodey. “I told him I was in aerospace and scientific research, and he said, ‘I’ve got the perfect project for you.’”
Kolodey dove into the project, helping validate a NASA-developed method for testing insulating materials for hypersonic flight.
“I was able to apply the critical thinking instilled in me by LCCC to solve real-world problems,” says Kolodey, who has had a life-long interest in space. “Doing things in an experiment in a lab for a grade is one thing, but testing, troubleshooting and improving on a piece of equipment for an organization that launches things into space is remarkable.”
Beyond the engineering experience he gained, Kolodey had opportunities to interact with and learn from NASA and U.S. Air Force scientists. He says their advice and guidance have had a lasting impact on him.
“Their words of encouragement set me on a course that makes me very confident in my future as an electrical engineer,” he says.
Steve Miller, principal investigator for the project, says the work of LCCC students, including Kolodey, has paved the way for acceptance of NASA’s new test method.
“Part of getting a new test method accepted is proving that the method can be repeated by researchers at other facilities,” says Miller. “LCCC students provided that validation.”
Kolodey says the opportunity at NASA was beyond anything he had imagined he would be able to contribute to as a student.
Ali Sayir, Ph.D., an aerospace engineer and program manager at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Arlington, Virginia, connected Miller’s company with LCCC and NASA scientists.
“I wanted to engage with LCCC so students could work with NASA and learn something that will help them in their education and help them find jobs,” he says. “The project enormously exceeded my expectations, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Finding his path
Kolodey says LCCC helped him find his way at a time in his life when he couldn’t imagine what the next step would be.
“I found a path that fit me perfectly, one that I would never have imagined was something I would love to do or could be successful at,” he says. “I had avoided a lot of career paths because I didn’t think I was smart enough for them or because I didn’t understand the core concepts.”
That changed after four semesters at LCCC.
“I had so many options for my future that the struggle was settling on just one,” he says.
Today Kolodey is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.
“Although I’m pursuing electrical engineering, I’m really hoping it’s going to point me in the direction of using robots in space to work on rovers, which would be phenomenal,” he says.
And he encourages other students to pursue their futures at LCCC, as he did.
“The staff at LCCC will match whatever effort you put in and help you go to levels you can’t really imagine until you’re standing on top looking back at how far you’ve come,” he says. “Without them, I imagine I would have found a job that consumed my soul, but I don’t have to think about that now that I’m pursuing a dream that ignites it.”