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Real World Ready – Matt Iannantuono’s Experience with the Dragon Next Program

by Matthew Early

In recent years, there has been an increase in those wanting to pursue some form of higher education, but on a path that strays from what is considered the “true college experience.” Whether it be getting an associates’ degree over a bachelors’,  learning a trade or pursuing a 4-year degree at a slower pace, many have found that for their specific fields, hands-on experiences are far more useful than theoretical work. Many colleges and universities have noted this trend, and now provide more flexible, cost-effective degree tracks for these non-traditional learners.

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Matt Iannantuono, a graduate of Tiffin University and Terra State Community College’s Dragon Next Program, is living proof that there are multiple paths to success, and his story helps to debunk the stigma that there is only one “right” way to kick-start a career.

The Dragon Next Dual Enrollment Program began in 2020, and was founded with the goal of making it easier and more feasible for atypical students such as Matt to pursue higher education without sacrificing other commitments. Enrolled students begin their journeys at Terra State, where they spend 2 years earning an associates’ degree before transferring the credits earned to TU, which ultimately go toward the completion of a bachelors’. For Matt, the primary advantage to doing this was that it allowed him to also pursue a trade and get some work experience under his belt. Though his initial plan of stopping after 2 years took an unexpected twist, it ended up working in his favor.

“I first enrolled at Terra to get my associates’ degree in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) because I could get into the workforce right away due to the demand for skilled trades,” says Matt. “After obtaining my first associates’ degree, I was eager to do more, so I want back for my associates’ in business. That’s where I met Kelly Petrosino, and she informed me of this great program. That’s when I decided to get my bachelors’ in business administration and then continued with my masters’ in business with a concentration in finance.”

Matt is glad that he ended up pursuing an alternative route to his own education, and is grateful to both Terra State and TU for allowing him this freedom.

“The program was an excellent fit for me because it allowed me to work full-time, make money and pay for college as I went. The program is flexible, so it was easy to fit into my busy schedule with work and coaching two sports. This flexibility allowed me to do all the things I wanted to do. By contrast, the traditional college experience would have limited my ability to engage with my community.”

Matt currently works for Columbia Gas of Ohio as a certified Field / Service Technician, and plans to put his extensive education and industry knowledge to good use while there, also giving credit to Dragon Next for effectively preparing him for this role. 

“I plan to use my degrees to advance at a faster rate within the organization, and the Dragon Next program helped prepare me for this by teaching me how to make business decisions quickly and efficiently while effectively managing my time.”