In life, sometimes you have to back up to move forward.
Just ask Dakotah Eaton.
As a mid-level manager at CF Industries in the Port of Catoosa, Eaton had invested more than 10 years in his company, but advanced as far as he could without a college education.
He wanted more for himself.
To this end, Eaton enrolled in Rogers State University’s new chemical engineering program, and he couldn’t be more optimistic.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this new program,” Eaton said. “Granted, I’m a little older than most of the other first-time freshmen – at 30 years old, I might be THE oldest freshman at RSU – but I think that gives me a greater appreciation for this undertaking, for this opportunity than if I’d started college right out of high school.”
Before graduating from Sequoyah High School in 2011, Eaton regarded his possible future – college or career?
“When I was still a senior in high school, I had a few chances to pursue higher education and a couple of opportunities to play basketball,” he recalled. “I weighed those options and tried to evaluate what would work best for me in the long-term. Ultimately, I made the decision to bypass going to college and went straight to work.”
Eaton entered the workforce at CF Industries, a leading global manufacturer of hydrogen and nitrogen products for energy, fertilizer, emissions abatement, and other industrial activities. He started in an entry-level position, loading rail cars and trucks, later moving into an operator position. Eventually, he worked his way to shift supervisor and later up to day supervisor.
But when he hit a career ceiling, he remembered his former goal of a college degree.
“When I first started, I was told that I could go as far as I wanted without a college education, but over the course of time, the requirements changed and it became evident that if I wanted to continue to be promoted within the company, I was going to need to get a college degree,” he said.
To achieve this, Eaton talked to his manager and received permission to continue working while also taking classes at Rogers State University, opting to enroll in the university’s new chemical engineering program.
“Because of my career at CF Industries, I felt that a degree in chemical engineering made the most sense and would be the best fit, and the knowledge gained from the program would only complement my practical work experience,” he said. “So, working with my employer, we developed a plan that would allow me to work on my degree while continuing to work full-time.”
Instrumental in helping Eaton align his educational and occupational ambitions was Dr. Mary Millikin, associate vice president for academic affairs, who serves as Eaton’s academic advisor and mentor.
“Dakotah possesses the mind of an engineer and a leader,” Millikin said of Eaton. “With a full-time job in management, he’s a dedicated parent, active in his church, and he still finds time to help tutor fellow students while pursuing a BS in chemical engineering with a full-time semester schedule. He’s an example of so many RSU students who will be lighting the way for others to follow.”
Only a few weeks into his studies, Eaton said that he’s already learned much from his professors and he is excited to be among a program’s first cohorts.
“My instructors are extremely helpful, and I’m excited to be part of the new chemical engineering program. I love new things and I feel like this program is one that’s going to have a huge impact, not just on me and in my life, but for this whole area,” he said. “I think there are a lot of students who in the area, even the state, who may not have the means to go to a bigger school, or who even want to, but with this new program offered at RSU, they – and I – have an opportunity they’ve never had before to earn a degree in chemical engineering, which is just fantastic.”
Eaton is on track to complete his degree in 2027 and he’s looking forward to the time he’ll spend on the “Hill,” the nickname for RSU’s Claremore campus. As one who’s older than most in his classes, he encourages his fellow students to enjoy the journey and to appreciate the days at RSU.
“I’m very thankful for this opportunity. To get to come back to school at my age is something not everyone gets to do, and if I had to give anyone my age, or even older, some advice, I’d tell them that that door is never closed,” he said. “RSU is a great school and if you want to come back to get your degree, whether it’s for work – like me – or it’s just something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t think you could, you can. Don’t get overwhelmed. There are great programs here and great people who can help you work towards your dreams, whatever those might be.”
Dakotah Eaton is married to wife, Bailey. The couple has two children.
RSU is the only four-year public, residential university in the Tulsa metro area. For more information about Rogers State University’s chemical engineering program, visit www.rsu.edu/ChemicalEngineering.