A Lifetime of Service

Senior nursing student Dan Gillis ’20 believes, “Life has a way of steering us in certain directions.” If this is the case, then life definitely steers Dan in the direction of serving other people. He says, “If we have a calling, then that appears to be mine. It’s what I am drawn to.”

At the age of 23, Dan thought he had his life planned out. He was working as a supervisor at a family business that took on state contracts, offering services such as highway maintenance, street sweeping, storm drain cleaning and bridge repair. His plan was to continue on with the family business, but when an unforeseen death of a family member put the company on hold, Dan decided he needed to do something else with his life. He says, “I looked around at my opportunities and decided I wanted to pursue law enforcement.”

Dan met with several police chiefs to determine how to enter the law enforcement field. He was told he could either go to college or join the military. Dan grew up in a patriotic family and felt he had a calling to join the military. He was deciding between joining the Air Force and the Marine Corps. Dan remembers, “I thought if I’m going to do this, I want the most difficult and challenging experience that I can get out of the military. That’s how I ended up in the Marines.”

Dan was stationed in many locations throughout his active duty including the southern coast of England; California; Okinawa, Japan; and South Korea. When he returned to New Hampshire in 1995, he began his search for a career in law enforcement. Dan landed a job at the Hanover Police Department and worked there until his retirement in 2016.

Once again, life changes seemed to steer Dan in a different direction. After a divorce, multiple changes at work and some personal things that came up, Dan decided to retire from the police department to spend more time with his son and reevaluate his life. He says, “That’s when I decided to go back to school and start thinking about what I want to do for the rest of my life. I saw an opportunity with nursing. I really thought I would enjoy the team environment, hearing people’s stories and the rewarding feeling you get from helping other people. It just seemed like the best fit.”

Dan Gillis at college

So, Dan applied to Colby-Sawyer College and was accepted into the nursing program – the sole program to which he applied. He says, “I’ve really enjoyed it and it has been very beneficial in a lot of ways for me. My classmates are great. Even though I’m not a traditional student, I feel that I’ve really been accepted by everyone.” As Dan enters his senior year, he has had many great experiences, including his externship that he received this summer through the VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) program. He was able to gain experience in the same day surgery unit at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., working alongside an experienced nurse day-to-day. He says, “There was direct patient care and I enjoyed talking to the veterans. The best thing about nursing is hearing the patient’s stories – especially the veterans.”

Dan’s not sure where life will steer him after graduation, but he is hoping to work as a nurse at a VA Medical Center. He says, “I truly have an appreciation for the opportunities I’ve had in my life. Being here at Colby-Sawyer and being part of this community is another amazing opportunity that was presented to me. I am very fortunate to be a part of it.”

by Donna Long