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Portrait of Phill Tanner and his wife and two children

Starting over helping student and family succeed

By Blake Sebring

January 10, 2024

Growing up in Noble County, best friends Phill Taner and Kevin Krock always had big dreams and told each other they’d know one of them made it when they purchased a pool table.

Krock, B.S. ’19, reached the symbolic milestone first about three years ago, and Taner, B.A. ’14, was there to help his buddy set up the table in the basement. At the time, Krock was working as a civil engineer and Taner as a server at a local restaurant. Both had started families of their own—Krock and his wife having three children, and Taner and his fiancé expecting their first of two. Knowing Taner was still searching for the right fit professionally, Krock encouraged his good friend to go back to school.

“I just told him I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my education,” Krock said. “He responded that he always wanted to be a mechanical engineer, and I told him to do it because it’s never too late to follow your passion.”

By the next morning, Taner was telling fiancé Scarlett Parsons he wanted to go back to school. She told him to go for it.

Starting in 2020, Taner has been pursuing his new-found passion to become a mechanical engineer while continuing to work at the restaurant on weekends to earn money. Along with classes at Purdue University Fort Wayne, he’s pursuing internships and been elected vice president and treasurer for PFW’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. There are also now two boys at home, and he’s the College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science representative to the Student Government Association’s Student Senate.

“I kind of enjoy the leadership role,” Taner said. “It’s really cool making decisions on behalf of students and having that type of role.”

At age 33, he’s busier with the new roles but also happier than ever.

“We knew changes had to be made, and we needed some financial stability, and that was the driving force,” Taner said. “I wanted to be able to have those nights and weekends so I could go to the soccer games and the football games and whatever else in the future. I wanted a real family life.”

Don Mueller, associate professor of mechanical engineering, said Taner’s dedication shows up in every class.

“Phill is a hard-working, dedicated student that, like so many of our students, works incredibly hard to balance school and life issues,” Mueller said. “Personally, I don’t see how students like Phill can do it. Despite significant time commitments at home, Phill is always willing to step up and do the `heavy-lifting’ when needed.  It comes across very quickly, in all interactions, that Phill is straight-forward and mature – perhaps due to the need to navigate that challenging life-school balance.”

Becca Essig, associate professor of first-year engineering and first-year engineering program coordinator, said of Taner: “Phill is the embodiment of what makes teaching at PFW special. When he started his engineering degree as a returning adult student, he was juggling working full-time while also preparing for the arrival of his first child. Getting an engineering degree is difficult enough, but to also add in work and a new baby mid-semester is a lot for anyone to handle. I remember being concerned about him potentially getting buried under the weight of all his huge responsibilities, but he was able to handle it all with lots of open communication and thorough planning. What he's been able to accomplish is truly special, and I consider myself lucky to be a part of his journey.”

Taner credits help from the civil and mechanical engineering department advisors and faculty for helping him get back on the academic track.

“The advising is really good,” Taner said. “Everyone is always willing to meet up and at least have a conversation. I couldn’t have done this without all the (institutional) backbone I have.”

Taner picked mechanical engineering because he recalls working with his grandfather who was an electrical engineer. They were always tinkering with something, and Taner remembered how he enjoyed math and science growing up. His plan is to graduate a year from now and start on acquiring his own pool table, which he hopes will allow him to be more competitive with Krock.

“I’m really excited about the future and getting to the stability where things kind of level off,” Taner said. “Right now, it’s pretty chaotic, especially with the young ones, but I am very fulfilled finding the path I really wanted to go. It’s all been working out, and things are going pretty well.”