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Spartan Spotlight

Nicole Dierolf

Think Big – I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, spending most days plotting my escape from the Sonoran Desert. As a child, I frequently found myself in conversations with adults or preferring to spend time with my grandpa, James (left). At the time, I lived with my dad (right), who was often deployed in the Army, so I got to spend a lot of time with my extended family. My grandpa was my favorite; he was a fantastic storyteller, sharing all his tales from growing up on a dairy farm in Illinois, his code-breaking successes in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and his travels worldwide. His stories encouraged me to imagine a life outside Tucson and aspire for “bigger and better” things. I was eventually given the opportunity to move to Northern Virginia to stay with my mom, and I took it. I remember my grandfather encouraging me to move and describing all the benefits of living near Washington, D.C. It broke my heart to leave him, my family, and everything I knew, but his push changed my life for the better.

Start Small – Moving to suburban northern Virginia was an adjustment. I had much catching up to do – academically, socially, and culturally. The school curriculum was faster paced, my classmates were very exclusive, and there was a significant language barrier between me and my mom. I was failing for the first time and wondered if I had made a mistake leaving Arizona. I was fortunate enough not to have to go through the move alone. I had my older sister, Nina, with me. After a few months of adjusting, I began making friends and made it into the honors program at school. I eventually went on to run for class representative and won the election. Reflecting on this transition, it isn’t easy to pinpoint when I accepted my new home. However, I remember the small reminders I made daily about why I made the move in the first place. I also remember my dad and grandpa telling me to take these things daily, task by task, and to acknowledge small victories. As time went on, I began to love living in Virginia. I eventually became captain of the Lincoln–Douglas debate team, president of the Distributive Education Clubs of America club, and joined a few sports teams.

Learn Fast – I met my husband, Andrew, in my first year studying undergrad at George Mason University. He was the calm in the storm while I worked between 3-4 jobs and internships simultaneously and over 40 hours a week to pay for my tuition and living expenses. Managing this workload as a full-time student taught me how to multitask effectively and efficiently. Looking back, I did not appreciate it at the time, however, these opportunities led me to prioritize, organize, and manage a busy schedule, preparing me for post-college success. After I graduated, I married my husband and obtained several full-time offers as an experienced hire, putting me ahead of many of my peers from a career standpoint. While my college years were atypical, I appreciate the skills I acquired early on as they led me to where I am today.

Fail Often – After I graduated, I began working for a business management consulting firm, where I started my career in Government Contracting. I worked across a comprehensive suite of growth services from business development, capture and proposal, transaction advisory, and market intelligence services there. I worked with some of the most brilliant people I had ever met and again found my footing alongside them. I began specializing in capture and proposal, working closely with solution architects to craft innovative, technical solutions. As a proposal professional, you must get used to being told your “product” can be better. There are multiple rounds of iteration and review, where your work is critiqued and criticized by executives and experts in their fields. It forces you to grow a thick skin, ask questions early and often, and eliminate your pride in ownership to collaborate with others to craft winning solutions.

Adapt to Change – After a few years at this firm, I experienced the loss of my older sister, Nina (left), who was only 26 at the time. My little sister, Victoria (right), made coping with her loss possible with positivity and her Gen Z humor. If Nina taught me anything, it was to prioritize family and surround yourself with people who make you better. Her passing made me reevaluate my future, and soon after, I decided to take a position at Invictus. Invictus’ culture and environment allowed me to advance my career, start a family, and continue my education. Roy T. Bennett once said, “You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I found this true then, and I continue to find this true today. You’re always told, “Take your time” or “There’s always tomorrow” until there isn’t. Instead, I see every day as a gift and an opportunity to be more intentional. If I never took the leap of faith to move to Virginia, take on difficult internships throughout college, and become one of the “Unconquered,” I would not be where I am today.