Photo: Connor McCourtney
John McInnerney, 47, has been a full-time student at Drake for three years. He earned his associates degree from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1994; but because of life-changing decisions, McInnerney is starting over.
McInnerney grew up in California. He entered the military in the 1980s, a time in which the United States was not at war. McInnerney met his his ex-wife Pam. McInnerney had three daughters with Pam before they divorced. When McInnerney got out of the service, he moved to Cedar Rapids, where he attended community college.
For many years, McInnerney worked at a nuclear power plant in Cedar Rapids and shared joint custody of his daughters with his ex-wife.
However, McInnerney soon adopted a drug problem and became addicted to meth.
“It’s amazing how much that drug grabs hold of your life, and you don’t see it happening,” McInnerney said.
In 2003, McInnerney’s father died, so he moved back to California to be with his mother. The move was also an attempt to get away from his drug issues that began in Iowa. He worked at a construction company while living with his brother, but McInnerney fell right back into his meth usage and was living on the streets.
“When I went to California, I was unbelievably blessed with material things; I had a truck and a boat,” McInnerney said. “But I returned on a train with nothing but a suitcase.”
When McInnerney returned to Iowa, he admitted himself to a psych ward in Iowa City. He was then accepted into a Veterans Affairs program in Knoxville, Iowa to stabilize him mentally, which lasted for 45 days.
McInnerney said he was molested as a child and often spent time around men who were racist and chauvinistic. However, he believes he was saved by God during his time in Knoxville.
“I’m a very spiritual person,” he said.
McInnerney spent the next two years at the 180 Degrees House in Des Moines, which provides transitional housing and counseling for recovering drug addicts, all of who are veterans.
After participating in this program, McInnerney wanted to go back to school and enrolled at Drake to major in psychology and become a social worker. McInnerney was inspired by the social worker who helped him.
“It’s really humbling to see students my children’s age further along in life than I am because I’m starting over,” McInnerney said.
McInnerney said he doesn’t have all the right answers, but he does know what not to do and finds himself offering fatherly advice to other students.
“When I first came here, I worked at the coffee shop in Olmsted and I was really inspired by the spiritually oriented students who were so open to reaching out to others,” McInnerney said.
McInnerney is starting over, but this time he knows he’s on the right path.
“The struggles I’ve faced have put me on this path to help people,” McInnerney said.
Another overlooked Bulldog is Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Mary Beth Holtey, who helps students select courses for their major and prepare for graduation.
Holtey graduated from Drake with a history degree and a masters in public administration. She worked in the admissions office at Central College before returning to Drake to work in admissions here. She left Drake for a short time to work for Iowa Student Loan, but she couldn’t stay away from Drake for long. She has been an administrator at Drake since 2009.
“Students often worry about coming into an administrator’s office,” Holtey said. “But the earlier they come in with a problem, the more we can do about it.”
Holtey’s advice for students is for them to keep an open heart and mind about taking classes they wouldn’t usually consider.
“If you step out of your comfort box, the learning experience can be so much better,” Holtey said.
Holtey helps students with questions from “Am I going to graduate?” to “What can I do with a major in this field?” However, the depth of students often pleasantly surprises her.
“The longer I work with college-age students, the more I understand age has nothing to do with adulthood,” Holtey said. “Students blow me away with their maturity.”
Holtey helps students become aware of all options open to them and helps them find solutions they may not even know existed. The only downfall: delivering bad news to students.
Sophomore Lauren Phillips, who works in the Arts and Sciences dean’s office, believes Holtey “has the answer to anything.”