A second try at college leads to success – and a career transformation

Brendon Dorn
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Economics, College of Letters and Science
Hometown: Milwaukee
It’s a fact: Dorn also runs a strength and conditioning business out of his garage and competes in Olympic weightlifting as part of Milwaukee Barbell.

The first time Brendon Dorn tried UWM, it didn’t stick.

“I was not ready to take school seriously at that level. I barely scraped by and got D’s across the board,” he says. He dropped out after a semester and spent a few years working in landscaping and other odd jobs before realizing that his life wasn’t going to change if he didn’t further his education. So he completed his associate’s degree at Milwaukee Area Technical College and then transferred to UWM.

“What made the difference when
 I returned to UWM in 2012 was that I had enough pain in my 
life and job, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this.’ And I had 
a lot of encouragement from people – faculty, family, friends, my wife. I’ve been getting all A’s and B’s ever since,” he says.

Once at UWM, he connected with his adviser, Gwyn Wallander, whom he calls “an absolute rock star.” She was the one who urged him to consider economics, a major he’d never before considered but now loves. It fueled his passion for math and science, and got him thinking about the world in a new way.

“When I started, I was thinking all finance. I wanted to be a chief economist…. I was thinking very macro,” he says. “Then I started seeing this aspect of behavioral economics fold in. I saw how people are supposed to think rationally, but we don’t. People are supposed to act like anything is greater than nothing, and we don’t act that way.

“And so I really started to fall in love with the theory and how these theories could explain people’s behavior. …The more I learned, the more I grew to like it.”

Outside of class, Dorn got involved with the Milwaukee Data Initiative, the Society for Advanced Economic Studies and the Department of Economics’ mentoring program, which paired him with a veteran economist in Minnesota. UWM’s Career Development Center helped him polish his resume, and he soon landed an internship at Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI), a company that specializes in building automation and efficiency.

It turned out to be a perfect fit for Dorn’s data analysis skills, and within months ESI offered him a full-time job. As a performance analyst, Dorn focuses on energy trends, demand forecasting, predictive maintenance and operational efficiencies, and he’s partnering with a UWM professor to construct a field experiment for one of ESI’s customers.

“I have everything I had been working for in less than a year,” Dorn says. “I could not have created a better job.”

Now he’d love to give back as a mentor to other economics students, and eventually return to UWM for a graduate degree.

“I really want to teach,” he says. “The thing that made me love this discipline was that I had teachers who broke down these concepts and made it practical. That fascinates me, and I want to be able to do that for people. The more people who know economics, the better.”

He hopes to share the lesson he learned:

“Just because you didn’t graduate at 22 or 23, don’t ever think you’re not able to have success at a later time,” he says. “If you’re even thinking of going back to school, just go back, chip away even if it’s one class per semester. That’s going to better your life.”

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