Alumnus Spotlight: Randy Nicoll

Honoring veterans on Veterans Day: U.S. Marine Corps vet earns B.S. at Saint Mary’s

Randy Nicoll, 53, first attended Dakota County Technical College after serving from February 1988 to November 1996 in the U.S. Marine Corps, including combat deployments during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Randy graduated from DCTC in 1998 with a diploma in Auto Body Collision Technology (ABCT).

“I started the Auto Body program late with permission,” Randy recalled. “My military advisor was Kerry Lurken. Kerry continues doing a stellar job supporting veterans at the college.”

Randy reported that Scott Logan was an ABCT instructor when he started the program. Scott is a program graduate himself and 2020 marks his 37th year teaching at DCTC.

“Then and now, the DCTC Auto Body program follows I-CAR standards, the leader in collision technology,” Randy said. “DCTC works closely with I-CAR and others to ensure that students have the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to start working in the very best repair facilities when they graduate. The program offers students opportunities to be tested and certified once they pass a course for skills like welding.”

Happy 245th birthday! Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Randy returned to DCTC nearly two decades later, having served overseas with the U.S. Army National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2018, he earned two more degrees, an A.S. in Business Administration and an A.A.S. in Business Management.

Randy was taking business classes at both DCTC and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. He went on to earn a B.S. in Business Management from Saint Mary’s.

“With the guidance and expertise of Scott Gunderson, my instructor in the DCTC business programs, transferring to Saint Mary’s University was easy,” Randy said. “Scott helped me select the classes I needed for transfer. Thanks to my DCTC and Saint Mary’s advisors, I was able to make the transition smooth and seamless.”

Randy’s near-term academic objective is earning a master’s degree in human resources. He loves his job as an advanced medical support assistant at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. He works in the Veteran Health Administration specialty care area in the hospital’s outpatient surgery operating control room. Randy’s career goals are centered on serving his fellow veterans, their families, and active-duty military members at the VA Hospital.

“The best part of my job with the VA is being able to help the nation’s finest—our veterans, and even some current military,” he said. “The passion our surgeons and nurses have is amazing, and it is an honor to be able to work with some of the very best! Being able to learn new things each week is so wonderful, and I would almost work here for free just because of that!”

More about Randy’s time at DCTC…

DCTC Lions: Habitat for Humanity

While earning his business degrees at DCTC, Randy made the most of his time by participating in several extracurricular and volunteer activities. He was a remarkably active member of the DCTC Campus Lions Club, volunteering for a number of service events, including Feed My Starving Children, Habitat for Humanity and Free Bikes 4 Kidz.

During spring semester 2018, he served as president of the Veterans Club. He worked on campus at the college’s Military and Veteran Service Center and made a point of helping many other student-veterans adapt to college life.

Randy also belonged to Student Senate and volunteered for Student Affairs activities such as open houses and new student orientations.

“Participating in extracurricular activities helped guide me into the person I am today,” Randy said. “Being able to speak in front of groups or even in front of entire classes is a fear many people have. I do not have that fear anymore! Getting involved on campus showed me the importance of proper communication both in government and the business world. Getting involved also taught me about the great benefits networking.”

Faculty and staff perspectives…

Randy was exceptionally involved on campus through the Lions Club, Student Senate, and as a student worker in the Military and Veteran Service Center. In all those roles, Randy demonstrated his care for others, and how he was willing to go the extra mile to help anyone in need.

Through his role as a Service Center student worker, Randy helped give campus tours at new student orientation and registration. Whenever a veteran was in his group, Randy would go out of his way to show her or him the center and provide additional information to help the veteran get off to a smooth start on campus.

Randy often provided his personal contact information to student-veterans and let them know he would also be a resource for them. This demonstrates the high level of care Randy took working with his fellow student-veterans to help them be successful.

I am grateful to Randy for being a resource for the student-veterans he met at DCTC. I am especially grateful for Randy’s continued service to others, in the military community and beyond. Randy’s grit and perseverance have helped countless people, veterans and civilians alike, and I know he will continue to use his talents to help others.

Anna Voight
Associate Director of Student Life
Dakota County Technical College

Randy is one of those Lions Club members that is referred to by Lions Club International as “a member with the heart of a Lion.” In other words, service is a part of his soul. He is truly engaged in volunteer efforts that benefit complete strangers just because it is the right thing to do and he loves the satisfaction of knowing that. From building homes for Habitat for Humanity to cooking and serving food for ill children, Randy was often the first to sign up.

Brett Kolles
English Faculty
DCTC Campus Lions Club Advisor
Dakota County Technical College

Randy is one of the nicest persons I know. At the college, he was first to volunteer for many events to support our veterans, clubs on campus, and students that needed any kind of support. He was a stellar student and a leader in the classroom! Randy went on to complete his bachelor’s degree, and he now is employed where he can use his many gifts serving his comrades at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis.

Scott R. Gunderson, MPNA, CM, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Business Faculty and Advisor
Phi Theta Kappa Advisor
Dakota County Technical College

I got to know Randy pretty well during the time he spent working in the Military and Veterans Service Center. He always greeted new students with a smile and made them feel welcome. He took this job very seriously as he knows what it’s like transitioning from a military culture to a culture of higher education.

Randy served as Veterans Club president, and in that role, he would organize volunteer opportunities, including the Support Our Troops Haunted House, a 501c3 that provides assistance to deployed troops and their family members living in Dakota County—Randy continues to volunteer yearly with Support Our Troops.

What I’ve learned about Randy is that he will be there when you need him. He truly cares about all people, especially veterans. Thank you, Randy, for your service and all that you have done and continue to do.

Kathy Bachman
MDVA Higher Education Regional Coordinator
Military & Veterans Service Center

More about Randy…

Iraq: Shooting Mk 19 400 belt-fed machine gun/grenade launcher.

Randy joined the U.S. Marine Corps right after graduating from Hastings High School in 1988. He rose to the rank of sergeant, or E-5. During his nearly nine years of service, he contributed via a range of military occupational specialties, including baker, food service specialist, chief cook and baker, crew service weapons operator, prisoner escort and light-wheel vehicle operator. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Randy deployed with the 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division as a field artillery man on a Howitzer gun crew and crew service weapons operator.

As a Marine, Randy earned the Navy Achievement Ribbon while serving as chief cook during a combined arms exercise in California at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, also known as 29 Palms, the largest Marine Corps base in the world. His role during the exercise involved preparing and serving 131,000 meals over a 30-day time frame.

Iraq: Holding Browning .50 caliber machine bun barrel

Some six years after graduating from DCTC, Randy joined the U.S. Army National Guard. His rank was sergeant, and he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from August 2004 to December 2005 with the 34th Engineer Brigade out of Charlotte, North Carolina. He worked as a chief cook, combat medic and convoy escort.

“I did convoy escort as a crew service weapons operator,” Randy said. “I was the guy who sat on top of the truck with the machine gun. Our area of operation was everything from Baghdad north!”

Randy has one son, Jordan, 26, who works at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Randy is the youngest of six children, four boys and two girls.

“I grew up on a farm so we had just about every pet a farm kid could have,” he said.

In his free time, he enjoys helping others, hiking and camping in national and state parks. He also enjoys spending time with family and his extended military family. Randy resides in Hastings, Minnesota.

Randy Nicoll gallery

Randy Nicoll Q & A

Why did you choose DCTC?

It’s my school. The campus is close to my home and has everything I needed all under one roof!

What did you like best about your academic programs at DCTC?

The opportunities, guidance and support to go out and try new things. I liked how many of the classes overlapped and connected one class to another class.

What advice would you give students thinking about participating in extracurricular activities?

Get involved—student clubs and organizations offer great things to do and many are very fun. Involvement in extracurricular activities looks good on a resume and can be the difference between getting your dream job or not. Try more than one; you can always miss an event, and it will not hurt you.

Classes often relate to these activities. You meet wonderful, like-minded people from all over the world. You learn so much—life skills and even social skills for the working, business and even government worlds. Besides, many of the activities and events are a lot of fun.

What is your favorite moment from your favorite extracurricular activity?

Getting a brand-new DCTC jacket while in a Student Senate meeting. The jacket was was given to me by DCTC. I have now given the gift to a new student, Sarah Johnson, who is in GM ASEP, an automotive program at the college. Sarah is the daughter of a lifelong friend.

Three words that describe you as U.S. military veteran:

What advice would you give military veterans about going to college?

Take full advantage of the programs available. Ask your county veteran service officer what works best for you. Look into what the VA is providing and check out their website. Dig deep and ask lots of questions about classes, tuition reimbursement and vocational rehabilitation programs.

Take advantage of earned credit from experiences and prior MOS training. Ask about a higher degree or transferring to anther college for that degree. Talk to your advisors and have a plan and even a backup plan.

Ask about any financial advantages you may be eligible for. Ask about assistance from tutors as they are a great resource and can be scheduled in advance. For me they made a difference in my grade point average and keeping it high!

What person has influenced you the most in life?

Not really one person but many. These people have helped change me for the better. The person I am today and the person I will be in the future. Many of them are from DCTC, Kathy Bachman Brett Kolles, Scott Gunderson, Anna Voight, and one instructor from Saint Mary’s University. He knows who he is!

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Helping make a better community by volunteering in some way.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Randy Nicoll 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Hiking
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Yellowstone National Park
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Shooting a Barrett .50 caliber rifle
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Take care of my family 2) Set up something to help homeless veterans! 3) Travel: I want to visit some of the same places my parents went and be able to stand in front of the same redwoods and walk the same trails would an amazing thing
  5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: Building Off the Grid
  6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: Hacksaw Ridge: Please note it took me a solid month to watch the whole movie due to its nature, which is based on a true story, but I saw it as important to watch it completely!
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: I think I’m doing it now, being happy…I have a great job, a roof over my head, a wonderful family and great friends.
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Simple, an EAGLE
  9. Dream occupation: Veterans advocate helping homeless veterans
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Samuel Nicholas, first commandant of the Marine Corps
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Speaking another language
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Too much violence; just be kind to one another. It’s not that hard to do.
Learn more about Military & Veteran Services and the BTYR Committee at DCTC by contacting:

Kathy Bachman
MDVA Higher Education Regional Coordinator
Military and Veterans Service Center: Room 2-303

Chris Tran
Resources Navigator
School Certifying Official
BTYR Co-Chair

Michael Crider
Financial Aid Assistant
BTYR Co-Chair

Kendrah Pearson
Director of Prior Learning Assessment

Learn more about Student Life at DCTC by contacting:

Nicole Meulemans
Director of Student Life and Activities

Anna Voight
Associate Director of Student Life

Learn more about Business Management at DCTC by contacting:

Scott Gunderson, MPNA, CM, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Business Management Faculty

Harold Torrence, EdD
Business Management Faculty

Erin Lund
Academic & Financial Aid Advisor

Hiking at Interstate Stare Park in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, one of Randy’s favorite places to visit