After being an aircraft mechanic for 10 years, Doyon Foundation alumnus Lee DeWilde decided to go back to school to become an engineer. It wasn’t an easy decision – or an easy road – but today, DeWilde is a college graduate working as an engineer in the oil industry.
“The biggest challenge for me was getting enough confidence to quit my job and go back to school full-time. I had been an aircraft mechanic for 10 years, I’m married and I have four kids. To go from that to being a freshman at the university was a big shock,” said DeWilde, who was 35 when he returned to school.
DeWilde overcame the challenges, though, and graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), where he was also in the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP).
Today, DeWilde is a pipeline maintenance engineer with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in Fairbanks. He also recently began the Doyon Management Training program, and is a member of the Doyon Foundation Alumni Association.
DeWilde said the funding he received, including several competitive scholarships from Doyon Foundation, was a big benefit.
“I appreciate that Doyon supported a non-traditional student. They gave a 35-year-old man a second chance to get a four-year degree,” he said.
Pursuing his engineering degree wasn’t DeWilde’s first experience on a college campus. Originally from Huslia, he first came to UAF from the village as a 19-year-old.
“When I first went to college, my biggest challenges were peer pressure, funding and homesickness. I didn’t do well. I partied too much. When I went back the second time, I had none of that. I was older, a semi-professional, and I had lived in Fairbanks for a while,” he said.
DeWilde said his biggest piece of advice isn’t for young people, but rather for adult men living in the village.
“I encourage them to pursue their dreams. They should try, even if they’re older. It’s not too late. Maybe we slipped up when we were younger, but the thing is to try again,” DeWilde said.
By doing this, DeWilde said he hopes there will be more good role models for young people.
“I think my going back to school gave my kids a big boost – to see me graduate, make more money, and have me understand what they’re going through. I can be a mentor to young people,” said DeWilde, who has four children with his wife, Lillian.
While happy with where he is at in life, DeWilde said there is one thing missing.
“The downside of all of this is I don’t have a connection with home. There is no connection between the oil company and my village, so I don’t go home very often,” he said. “My dream is to go home more often and have a closer connection there. I’m going to find a way to do it. Maybe I’ll buy an airplane.”
DeWilde is the son of Lloyd and Amelia DeWilde, and the grandson of Victor and Thelma DeWilde of California, and Edwin and Lydia Simon of Huslia.