With help from friends and mentors at North Idaho College, Nicolas Espinoza went from feeling like an outcast to a student leader and graduate.
“I’ve been to multiple different community colleges. I’m ex-military, so I’ve been around – and the colleges I’d been to before were just ‘go to class, get a grade and move on with life,’” he said. “I never really had that warm and fuzzy feeling like I do at NIC.”
Espinoza celebrated his graduation last month through NIC’s virtual commencement ceremony after earning his associate’s degree in engineering with an electrical engineering emphasis.
The 33-year-old father of two said despite the challenges that come with being a nontraditional student, he’s happy he waited until he was ready and motivated to go back to school.
“During and after high school, I was not focused. I didn’t care,” Espinoza said. “Having a family and some actual work experience made me more mature. Because of that, I was able to focus.”
Espinoza grew up in Southern California and worked four years in the Navy as an Aviation Electronics Technician at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. After that, he moved on to work in the automotive industry and fell in love with the ever-changing electrical engineering components therein.
“I’ve always wanted to learn what was coming up over the next two or three years on the electronics side of things,” he said. “I’ve been disassembling computers since I was 8 years old.”
He plans to attend the University of Idaho in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering, then move on to a master’s program in computer engineering to do programming work on planes, cars and public transportation.
Work brought Espinoza and his family to the Spokane region originally, but after visiting Coeur d’Alene, he said his family fell in love with the city’s atmosphere and decided to move there after a heartwarming experience which happened during a park visit.
“When we got there, my son went out to go play on the playground. The rest of us were all on our phones, because that’s what everyone did in California,” Espinoza said. “Then we looked around and saw that parents were actually playing with their kids. Nobody had their phone out except to take a picture, and everyone was laughing. Ever since then, we didn’t look back.”
He said his wife, Tracy, and two children plan to stay in Coeur d’Alene when he moves to Moscow to attend classes during the week. He will travel to visit them on the weekends.
Espinoza said his proudest accomplishment from his two years at NIC is the work he did as a senator in the Associated Students of NIC his second year. He worked with the Alumni Association to help create and distribute a student newsletter, streamlining communication between faculty, staff and students. Along with his student government work, Espinoza became involved with new-student orientation and helped lead campus tours for prospective students over the summer.
He said he’s always felt like an outcast, but this feeling shifted to a sense of belonging after he stepped into leadership roles at NIC. Fellow students began to recognize and converse with him whenever they saw him, and he took every chance he could to be there for his other students.
“Everyone is there for each other, and the students feel like it is a college for them – they’re not just a number,” Espinoza said. “People are here to help, and if you don’t know where to start, just ask one person.
“It will be a domino effect until you get to where you need to go.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.