Above photo by Ryan Moriarty. Illustrations and other art featured in this story come courtesy of Nick Butler.
When reflecting on his journey from serving in the military to working with universities, Nick Butler – an instructional designer and technologist at the Milgard School of Business — laughs at the unplanned happenstances that led him where he is today. "You know life is a series of random synchronicities," he said with a chuckle.
Butler grew up in a military family. Both of his parents served in the army. While his family moved often, Butler graduated from high school in El Paso, Texas immediately enlisting himself into the Air Force. He spent a year and a half working as a bomber electrician. Before leaving the military, Butler had a small conversation that would set the course of his future.
While working on the flight line, he spotted the pilots. Butler asked his colleague why they were the only ones allowed to fly the planes. “They have degrees,” was the response. “I was like ‘I’m getting one of those’,” Butler said. "I wanted more, and that's how I was able to get it, through education."
Butler received his bachelor’s degree from Colorado Technical University in 2003. Though his passion was art, he majored in computer science. "I discovered that computers were the next thing when it came to art, and I loved the idea of using computers to make art," Butler said. After completing his undergraduate degree, Butler moved to Los Angeles, working as a freelance artist. In 2005, Butler packed all of his belongings and made the expedition from Los Angeles to Washington state. He became increasingly involved with the Tacoma art community, serving on a committee to help decide which artists received funding from the Tacoma Arts Commission.
Upon arriving in Washington, Butler moved into his brother’s garage. He worked as a property manager, but continued painting and generating art using his computer in his spare time. One day, Butler was working on a graphic novel in the library at Pacific Lutheran University. Caught up in creating, Butler was interrupted when someone peeked over his shoulder and inquired about his work. They informed him that PLU was looking for a digital media developer for their Digital Media Center. “I applied for the job, threw together this really quick website that took my computer science skills and my art skills and kind of crammed them together, and I got it,” Butler said.
Butler worked at PLU for from 2007 to 2012. In 2015, he began working at UW Seattle in the health sciences department as the instructional support manager. Between those times, Butler tried starting his own animation studio through Spaceworks, spent a year as a stay-at-home father volunteering at his son’s elementary school and worked at Amazon developing video labs.
In 2012, Butler chose to go back to school to pursue a degree in what he loved: art. “Art is something I’m very passionate about, but it’s also something that most people in my life see as a hobby,” Butler said. “I thought if I got a master’s degree in it, then people would see it as a more serious part of my life.” Though he was enrolled full-time, being a father of four and working meant Butler wasn’t able to finish until 2017. “I was working on my classes after everyone was in bed and on weekends for the last five years,” Butler said. “I’m still sort of recovering.”
When it came to putting all of his training on a resume, Butler wasn't sure how he could entwine his lengthy list of seemingly unrelated experiences. "I was like 'how am I going to weave all of this craziness together'," he said. Then he found out about the position in the Milgard School of Business at UW Tacoma.
“The program I work on — the Master of Science in Business Analytics at the Milgard School of Business — is about tying all of my experiences together,” Butler said. "We work with businesses, big and small, to pair them with students and use analytics to develop their business. The goal of our organization is to help grow Tacoma economically and socially."
An artist and a computer scientist, Butler has found a home in the scholarly world. While he has dabbled in various fields and disciplines, education has allowed him to foster not only his own creativity, but the growth of other’s as well. "Academia is such a great industry for exploration. The faculty, students…everybody is just like 'there's this thing I want to know, and you know some of it so help me get there,' Butler said. "You never know what else you can do until someone asks.”
Butler has received awards for his inventive approach to integrating technology into curriculum, including the Award for Innovation in Instructional Technologies from the NorthWest Academic Computing Consortium.
Butler’s goals are as ambitious as he is, and he’s eager to begin achieving them. "I'm out to change Tacoma, and the Milgard School of Business has positioned me to do that.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com