A Montgomery County Community College student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran has been named the recipient of the 2023-2024 Terry O’Banion Student Technology Award by The League for Innovation in the Community College. Computer Networking and Cybersecurity major Drew Dearden is designated as the award’s Student Technology Champion.
The national award honors deserving students who demonstrate special talent in technology, passion about moving toward a career in technology, academic excellence and strong financial need, according to its website.
“It gives me tremendous pride to congratulate Drew Dearden on receiving the Student Technology Award,” said Dr. Celeste Schwartz, Vice President of Pottstown Campus, Information Technology and Institutional Effectiveness. “He’s overcome many obstacles to get to this point, and we couldn’t be happier with him as a student and employee. Drew’s consistent academic achievement should be admired.
“As a member of the IT Support Services, he is a calming presence for those looking to solve their technology issues. Drew has also become an integral part of the IT team, who is always there to help when asked. On behalf of the entire Montco Family, I wish him the best of success in the future.”
For Dearden, the award felt a little overwhelming.
“I’m not someone who’s done well with academics before,” said Dearden, 29, of Springfield. “I’ve never received awards for academics. It’s a tremendous honor.”
The Student Technology Champion award is presented to a student with a career interest in a technology field other than software development (e.g., hardware engineering, network administration, cybersecurity).
Dearden will receive a $1,000 scholarship for educational expenses (e.g., tuition, fees) and a commemorative plaque for the achievement.
The 2012 Springfield Township High School graduate said it’s been a long road to get to this moment with many hurdles in the way, but he’s proud of all he’s been able to accomplish to this point.
Dearden struggled academically in high school but worked hard his senior year to get close to straight A’s. He was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown and studied kinesiology there for a year but grappled with being far from home and his grades suffered as a result.
Leaving school, in April 2014, he joined the Marine infantry.
“It was challenging,” he said. “I still have a lot of fond memories. Good bonds with my fellow Marines. Cool experiences that a lot of people don’t get. I was able to travel around the U.S.; six different countries. There were cool operations repelling and riding in different aircrafts and boats.”
Dearden was deployed overseas three times. First to Turkey by way of Spain and Israel. Then Okinawa, Japan to South Korea. His final deployment was to the Philippines. He decided not to reup his contract after it expired following his fifth year.
Adjusting back to civilian life was difficult, he said.
“It was challenging coming back and trying to get my life back in order from the regimented lifestyle of the Marines,” he said.
Dearden also struggled with the loss of his mother and the impact of losing many of his fellow veteran friends to suicide.
“The loss of my mom and suicides after that, I just went into a depression and alcoholism,” he said. He’s been sober for the last three years.
Before enrolling at MCCC in fall 2022, Dearden worked a series of jobs, which ultimately gave him the final push he needed to decide to go back to school and pursue a degree.
“Montco was the best choice for me at the time,” he said.
The adjustment back to life as a student took some time to get used to, said Dearden.
“The first semester was difficult getting into a studying regiment. It was challenging taking classes, studying on my own time, having to prepare and divvy up my time to get ready for homework and finals and such,” he said. “Once I got the hang of the first semester, it was easier the next time around. Then I took two courses over the summer and started working part-time at the MCCC IT Support Services Help Desk. The two courses in the summer were more manageable and this past semester the courses were a breeze.”
Dearden attributes his time in the Marine Corps to helping him develop a strong work ethic which he calls “diligence and determination.”
“I’m doing it because I want to learn and understand what I can about this field, so I can do well in the job later. The Marines helped with diligence. We had schoolhouses in the Marines to take tests. They weren’t something you could fail,” he said. “You had to do well on them. We would study together. I took that training and applied it now. It’s helped me get down to business and do well.”
Dearden has made the Dean’s List each semester, with a current 3.85 GPA, and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the International Honor Society for two-year college students.
He landed the job at the Help Desk after an old friend and classmate, Ray Becker, who Dearden knew from a previous job, suggested he apply.
“He started school in the spring of 2023,” said Dearden. “We caught a few classes together. He started working at the Help Desk shortly after and told me to come work there as well. I started in the summer. He said it was a nice workplace and had good resources and was a necessary step for any other job.”
Dearden works with students and employees at the College facing any technical difficulties and tries to help solve their problems either over the phone or in an online live support chat. The job, he said, has been really great. He also regularly attends meetings with the IT security team to stay apprised of current threats or problems. He demonstrates technological skills related to network infrastructure and routinely takes on challenging projects, often in a leadership role.
“Everyone is amazing,” he said. “The management is much better than anything I’ve ever seen. A lot of it comes from communication. Everyone seems to know what’s going on. It’s very helpful. I like helping people. I was apprehensive to come back to school. When I get people on the phone or live support, and I can tell they’re apprehensive. I can relate and try to calm them down by staying calm and telling them it will be easy and help with what they need. It’s a good feeling.”
The feeling is mutual for his colleagues in the IT Department.
Service Desk Manager Ray Sweeney nominated Dearden for the Student Technology Award calling him “an exceptional IT Service Desk Student Worker.”
“He shows genuine interest in helping students, staff, and faculty with their IT issues,” he said. “Drew is always interested to take on a project or to help a new employee and is always willing to pick up an extra shift, as long as it doesn’t conflict with his classes. One of my favorite things about Drew is his willingness to pass along his knowledge of IT classes and instructors at Montco to younger students between Service Desk calls.”
Dearden said he’s scheduled to graduate at the end of the spring semester and has plans to transfer to the University of Scranton to continue his education to pursue a career in cybercrime and homeland security.
“I count myself as fortunate to have Drew as part of my team,” said Sweeney. “I am so very proud of Drew and happy that others have recognized the same qualities in Drew that I observe every day at the Service Desk. He will be truly missed when he graduates in May.”
Dearden thanked his colleagues in the IT Department and said none of this was possible without their support and guidance.
“Thanks to Dr. Celeste Schwartz, Mary Kate Najarian, Director of User Success and Learning Technologies, Ray Sweeney and everyone at the Help Desk,” he said. “Thanks to my professors and The League for Innovation in the Community College for this recognition.”