The day Austin Ayers received his high school diploma, he headed straight to the local U.S. Marine Corps recruiter’s office and left for training that night. He promised his mother he would get a college degree one day, but he just wasn’t ready yet.
Six years later, he is, in no particular order, a Creighton University Heider College of Business student, intern at Deloitte, husband and father – and, of course, a proud veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
After several years of service and two overseas deployments, Ayers and his family returned to their hometown of Omaha. Before long, he started thinking of his promise to his mother.
As an infantryman in the Marine Corps, Ayers had gained confidence and learned the value of hard work and determination. He would need these traits as he dove into pursuing his bachelor’s degree, double majoring in business intelligence and analytics and finance at Creighton, while raising a family and working full time.
Now that he’d shown that he could make it in the Marines, Ayers wanted to prove that he could thrive in a rigorous academic environment. He committed himself to making the most of the experience.
“I wanted to be in a place where whatever opportunity opened to me, I could choose to be able to seize it or not,” he says. “I knew that Creighton would be the place that wouldn’t close any doors for me.”
Once he enrolled at Creighton, Ayers put “the pedal to the metal,” he says – pouring his energy into studying. His instant connections with professors affirmed that he made the right choice for where to pursue his degree.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but [the professors] really do care,” he says. “In every class, everyone knew my name. It’s hard to put a price on that.”
Through his classes, Ayers began to narrow his general interest in business as he explored finance, risk management, insurance and technology. In addition to new subjects and ideas, he keeps coming back to the “soft skills” he learned.
The faculty members, he says, “have taught me to learn, how to dig in and find out on [my] own.”
Ayers reflects that “in the military, I learned to be a leader and a follower,” but he says he had more to learn about how to work independently.
Now he has begun to round out his skill set.
He credits faculty members such as economics and finance instructor Tim Bastian (who himself is a former Air Force officer), who encourage a “great mix” of teamwork and individual inquiry.
One of the first courses Ayers took, a history class taught by Adam Sundberg, PhD, was especially thought-provoking and challenging, he says. Ayers rose to the challenge from the start.
Sundberg recalls: "The first email I ever received from a Creighton student came from Austin Ayers. He emailed to tell me he was going to miss class. He was in the hospital with his wife and their first child. I’m absolutely certain my class on global history was far from the most important thing going on his life that semester, yet he still came to class prepared, engaged, and produced work that was consistently impressive.”
Sounding a similar note, professor Bastian raves, “I’d take 30 Austins in my classes.”
‘A Place Like This’
That investment is paying off. Ayers landed a coveted summer internship at Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accounting firms.
“If you would have asked me six or seven years ago if I would try to go for something like this, I’d have said you were nuts,” he laughs.
With some support from Creighton’s John P. Fahey Career Center, though, he did go for it. He works on “the technology side of things” at Deloitte’s downtown Omaha location, testing controls of internal audits to make sure money transfer technology is working properly.
“I love what I am doing,” he says.
Deloitte even sent Ayers to a premier training facility, Deloitte University in Texas, where he was surrounded by some of the best and brightest among his peers.
Though the setting could have seemed intimidating, Ayers thrived.
“I texted professor Bastian all weekend to tell him what a great time it was,” he recalls with visible enthusiasm. "I couldn't have gotten to a place like that without a place like this" – he gestures at Harper Center, home to the Creighton University Heider College of Business.
Deloitte appears to love what Ayers is doing, too. The firm now has offered him a full-time position.
Once a Marine…
When he first rejoined the civilian world and became a student, Ayers worried about losing his identity as a Marine. Naturally, sometimes he still worries about that, as he juggles his current roles and looks toward a future wide open with opportunities and possibilities.
However, he has something unique to remind him of his experience.
Throughout his assignments on active duty, he sustained his share of bumps and bruises. Today when he walks, his ankle makes a clicking sound due to one such injury.
Far from finding it an annoyance, Ayers says, “I never want to lose the click in my ankle.” He says it reminds him of where he has been and who he is – no matter where he goes next.
“I will always have the values from the Marine Corps. This place” – Creighton – “built on those.”
Read more about the university and how it supports veterans.