Health and exercise science student-veteran juggles family, classes, reserves and applying to medical school

Daniel Houser is excited to have found his path in life — and if all goes as planned, he is on the way to becoming a doctor in the Air Force. Houser will graduate fall 2016 from Colorado State University with a degree in health and exercise science, in the sports medicine concentration.

Houser graduated from high school from Helena, Montana, and went to college at Western Washington University. After a year of college, he realized that he wasn’t sure a business degree was right for him. He spent three more years working in Bellingham before moving to Fort Collins. He then joined the Air Force, which stationed him in Italy for two and half years, then Hawaii for three years. In 2009, he was deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In 2013, Houser separated from active duty and decided to move back to Fort Collins, where much of his immediate family had relocated. He liked the city and had heard from friends that CSU had a great sports medicine program. “After being away for six years, I was ready to be close to family again,” he said.

As a nontraditional student, Houser was challenged by the demands of being a full-time student, husband and father. “I got married three weeks before starting school and dividing my time between school and my marriage was difficult. In May of 2014, we found out we were having a baby, so that definitely brought a new set of challenges. My wife, Shelby, was working full time, and with me being a full-time student, it became a juggle to figure out how both of us could fulfill our obligations,” recalls Houser.

In late 2015, Houser decided to apply to medical school. “With MCAT studying, medical school applications and getting volunteer hours, we were just about out of time for anything but survival,” he said. Through these challenges, Houser has maintained an impressive 3.95 GPA in a demanding major. “Dan is intellectually strong, curious, and has a herculean work ethic that will allow him to succeed at any career path he chooses. He is truly passionate about a career in medicine and is doing so for all the right reasons — to make a tangible difference in benefitting the health of the public,” said Department Head Barry Braun.

Houser credits his adviser, Kathy Hutcheson, with helping him through some of these challenges, encouraging him in whatever he was pursuing at the time. “She even cheered me on as I attempted to start a new student fitness organization,” he said. “Her constant support has been great, and her help ensuring that I got all the classes I needed was truly paramount to my graduating this fall.”

In addition, Houser received several scholarships — the Liniger Honor, Service and Commitment Scholarship for six semesters; the Katherine I. O’Donnell Scholarship from the Department of Health and Exercise Science during the ’15-’16 academic year; and an Adult Learner and Veteran Services/CSU Bookstore Scholarship.

Along his undergraduate journey, Houser participated in several volunteer activities, including mentoring a young man for a year through The Matthews House. “His family was in the social system and he was considered at risk, so my role was to be a consistent adult in his life and help him with school and relationships,” he said.

Houser and his wife have been involved with another organization called Life for the Innocent (LFTI) for almost three years. “The organization exists to rescue kids from human trafficking situations overseas, and educate and empower the local Northern Colorado community to prevent trafficking in our own cities and towns,” he said. Houser has worked alongside Shelby to develop the domestic training program for LFTI, and he serves as a volunteer at their events as well. Additionally, Houser is an active member at Mill City Church, which meets at the University Center for the Arts on Sunday mornings.

Houser has continued his Air Force career as a Reservist in Colorado Springs. “One weekend a month I go down to Peterson Air Force Base and put on a completely different hat from the one I wear at school. At my unit, I’m Tech Sergeant Houser, the unit Fitness Program manager and one of a few vehicle maintenance managers. I supervise a few young Reserve Airmen and oversee their technical training, but the most fulfilling part of my job is when I get to invest in their personal and professional development,” he said.

By last summer, Houser had completed the application process for medical school and was gearing up for his final semester at CSU. “This last semester has been anything but slow, but I made it through what felt like the gauntlet of undergraduate education as a husband, father and future doctor.”

Houser’s immediate plans include being a stay-at-home dad for a semester, hopefully heading to medical school in the fall on an Air Force scholarship, ultimately completing his career in the Air Force as a physician. In the meantime, he will keep busy as a dad — Houser and his wife are expecting their second child in February!

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is part of the CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.