New Graduate Spotlight: Nikolas Ybarra

U.S. Army veteran earned Electrical Lineworker A.A.S.

Nikolas Ybarra, 31, a U.S. Army veteran, graduated from Dakota County Technical College in May 2024 with honors and a 3.9 GPA. Niko earned an Electrical Lineworker Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) at DCTC. He made the President’s List for fall semester 2023 and spring semester 2024. He has plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree online from American Military University.

Niko participated in Phi Theta Kappa and Veterans Club at the college. In the latter student organization, he rediscovered how much he liked helping people, especially veterans. He recently accepted the position of national service officer at Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the country’s top veterans charity organization.

Niko was the student speaker at the 2023–2024 DCTC Foundation Scholarship Social

When asked what motivated him to make this career choice, Niko said: “While I was still in the Army, I picked the brains of friends who exited before me and tried to get as much help as I could to set myself up for a smooth transition to life as a civilian. During this time, I learned about different benefits and resources to help other veterans I knew or worked with in the past.

“This resulted in getting these veterans and their families qualified for healthcare and compensated for their hard work and dedication while in the service. I found this kind of work to be meaningful and always knew I wanted to do it at a professional level—I just thought it would be after a career in the electrical linework industry. But the opportunity to be a DAV national service officer was a career move I had to try.”

Niko started his new job June 3, 2024, and he’ll be working at the DAV office in St. Paul. His duties and responsibilities will involve acting as a representative for veterans and their families in pursuing disability claims and other benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other government entities.

“The overall mission is to better the lives of Minnesota’s disabled veterans and their families,” Niko said.

Staff perspective: Kathy Bachman

“I first met Nikolas Ybarra when he was still actively serving as the U.S. Army recruiter based in Lakeville. Niko stopped by my office at DCTC, introduced himself, and asked me about the programs, specifically the Electrical Lineworker program.

Kathy Bachman

“During his time at DCTC, Niko always stopped in the Military and Veterans Service Center with his sidekick, Kenny Hardman, a Marine Corps veteran and also in the Electrical Lineworker program. Niko and Kenny would come to the Center everyday to hang out. Niko would ask me questions about everything pertaining to the GI Bill and VA benefits—he is very inquisitive.

“Of course, I also learned a few things from Niko since he was prior active duty. I believe he began changing his mind about his career goal midway through spring semester. He stopped in my office one day and said, ‘I want to work with veterans. I want to help them.’

“He applied for the DAV national service officer position, and DAV did not waste any time in interviewing him. Next thing I knew, Niko was flying out to Washington, D.C., and they offered him the job.

“Niko is very professional, articulates well, and is the person you would want to represent you. I am proud to know him and wish him all life successes!”

Kathy Bachman
Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Higher Education Regional Coordinator
Military and Veterans Service Center (Room 2-302)
Dakota County Technical College

Life in the U.S. Army

Niko achieved the rank of staff sergeant (SSG), or E-6, in the U.S. Army. He served from August 2014 to February 2023 and was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he managed the elements of a 60-member platoon. He deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, from April 2017 to January 2018.

“To be honest I wasn’t the most level-headed young man back in the day,” Niko said. “I found myself getting into trouble, wasting time with things I shouldn’t have been so focused on, working jobs just to fund my good times, and seeing my friends around me continue to grow and become successful. I saw the writing on the wall that I wasn’t going to go far in life without a drastic change, so I decided I needed a little purpose, direction, and motivation in my life, which I found through the United States Army.”

Deployment in Afghanistan

Niko’s last role in the Army took him to Lakeville, Minnesota, to serve as a recruiter, or Army ambassador. “What I liked best about the job was helping out people in my community accomplish a goal of serving in the military,” he said. “I always enjoyed seeing them succeed in their training a few months down the road. Especially the ones who needed extra guidance along the way because I was the same.”

Niko reported that his service in the U.S. Army helped prepare him for technical college. “Learning to deal with people from all walks of life is one of the biggest things I got out of the Army,” he said, “and I didn’t realize it until I got out. Also, the structure and habits I learned during my enlistment really allowed me to be a successful, well-rounded student.”

“I would just say keep an open mind about serving in the military,” he said, regarding the advice he would give young people thinking about joining up. “Regardless of the branch of service, it’s a worthwhile venture, and while I’m clearly biased about the topic, it’s so much fun. I try to let people know that just like any other job in life there are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days, but after nine years in the Army, I can count the number of bad days on one hand. And the good days are some of my most cherished memories.”

More about Niko…

Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Niko graduated from Como Park Senior High School, Class of 2011. Niko’s family includes his mom, Estela, one older sister, Jennifer, one younger sister, one younger brother, one niece, and two nephews. In 2020, he adopted a boxer mutt named Ripley.

In his free time, Niko loves going to basketball games and traveling. “I combine those two by trying to visit a new NBA stadium every single year,” he said. “I’m almost halfway done now. This year I went to Phoenix to see the Wolves play the Suns.”

Niko resides in St. Paul.

Nikolas Ybarra life gallery


Nikolas Ybarra Q & A

Niko and Ripley

What inspired you to complete the Electrical Lineworker program at DCTC?

I had to finish what I started.

What did you like best about the Electrical Lineworker program?

The mix of classroom instruction and hands-on work throughout the program.

How did your participation in the college’s Veterans Club influence your decision to work for DAV?

Although I won’t be working in the lineworker field, I’m grateful to have gone to DCTC and finished the program because without attending and talking to the veteran community here, specifically Kathy Bachman, I wouldn’t have really thought my current role would be possible.

I accepted a job to work for the United Heroes League, but shortly afterward I had the opportunity to interview at the DAV HQ in Washington, D.C., and I was offered the national service officer the same day. DAV aligned with my career goals and what I wanted as far as veteran support and advocacy.

I had daily chats with Kathy about the work she did, and she would joke that I should apply for her job when she retires. As much as she might have been kidding around, it really got me thinking that I could be involved in similar work. So from there, I started messaging different organizations, and I emailed a member of DAV to pick his brain about the organization, and he told me to email him a resume and that really got the ball rolling on where I am now.

Three words that describe you as a college graduate:
APPRECIATIVE. ADAPTABLE. RESILIENT.

How did your participation in Phi Theta Kappa help advance your academic and career goals?

PTK helped surround me with more likeminded students, got me in contact with staff, and helped me network and see what it took be successful in the workforce.

What advice would you give students thinking about attending a technical college?

I would say stop in for a tour or talk to someone in the industry you’re interested in.

What is your favorite memory from your time at DCTC?

Traveling to the International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas city as a scholarship recipient.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

My mom, Estela—she raised two kids on her own, put herself through college, and had the patience to put up with a knucklehead like me.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:

MEMORABLE

Nikolas Ybarra Nine Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Basketball
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Peru
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Being a paratrooper
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Get Wolves courtside season tickets 2) Open up a dog rescue 3) Open up another dog rescue
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Goodfellas
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: 1970s
  7. Your national bird if you were your own country: Bald eagle—if it ain’t broke, don’t change it
  8. Dream occupation: Sports analyst
  9. Person you would most like to meet: Salma Hayek
Learn more about Military & Veteran Services at DCTC by contacting:

Kathy Bachman
Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Higher Education Regional Coordinator
Military and Veterans Service Center (Room 2-302)
Dakota County Technical College
katherine.bachman@dctc.edu
651-423-8274

Learn more about the Electrical Lineworker program at DCTC by contacting:

Admissions
Dakota County Technical College
admissions@dctc.edu
651-423-8266
Room 2-110

Challenge Coin Presentation to DCTC Military Graduates Spring 2024

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