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Nolan Harless graduates from Northwest this spring with his bachelor’s degree in digital media with a computer science emphasis. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Nolan Harless graduates from Northwest this spring with his bachelor’s degree in digital media with a computer science emphasis. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

April 29, 2021

Harless seizes opportunities at Northwest to build network, develop skill set


Nolan Harless has developed a knack for building on opportunities, it could be said, since before he was born. And as he graduates from Northwest Missouri State University this spring, he doesn’t have any intention of limiting his pursuits. 

The Kansas City, Missouri, native is completing his bachelor’s degree in digital media with a computer science emphasis.

“I see on LinkedIn all these different alumni working for different places, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I got a cool opportunity,’” he said upon reflection of his experiences during the last four years at Northwest.

The University’s interdisciplinary digital media program, which blends coursework in mass media, computer science and art – as well as its small class sizes and the closeness of its community – were key factors that drew Harless to Northwest.

He developed his skills through courses focused on game development, programming languages and advertising case studies. He also has been active in AdInk, a student organization that provides learning opportunities and connects students with professionals in marketing, advertising, media, graphic design, communication, public relations and business management.

Yet, Harless became integrated with the Northwest campus even before his first college class when he secured a student employment position as a web assistant in Student Account Services. He’s held the role for all four of his years at the University, using his skill set to build online stores for a variety of institutional needs and organizations.

Between further developing his résumé through a wealth of summer internships at Cerner, Hallmark, Propaganda3 and American Century Investments, Harless calls his student employment work one of the most fulfilling things he’s done at the University. This spring his work earned him recognition as the recipient of Northwest Student Employment’s Uniqueness of Contribution Award.

“Nolan has been such a valuable part of our office, and I think I speak for our entire team when I say that we are better for knowing and working with him,” Beth Russo, billing and collections coordinator in Student Account Services, said. “We have watched him grow from a shy yet ambitious freshman with an interest in technology and design to a confident professional who has created and managed live web applications and product stores for the University marketplace. He was instrumental in helping our office transition to remote work during the COVID-19 shutdown and has shown great leadership in his role by helping with hiring and training of the student stepping into his role. There is no doubt in my mind that he will go out into the world and do great things.”

Since childhood, Harless has held a fascination for technology, computer science and solving problems. He’s grown up on Pixar films while admiring tech innovators such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

He fondly recalls receiving an outmoded, hand-me-down Toshiba laptop “that was like a dinosaur at the time” when he was around 10 years old. But the laptop had Pivot Stickfigure Animator and he delighted in creating moving stick figures with the software program.

“I was so fascinated in animation,” he said. “I wanted to work for Pixar when I was a kid because I always loved art and computers.”

As a teenager, he began to learn coding and website development. His high school computer science and programming courses as well as his participation in the Northland CAPS program laid a foundation that Harless realized could mold a career path.

“That really solidified my choice to attain a degree in computer science because that got me actual real-world, hands-on experience with a lot of different companies,” he said.

While shaping his digital portfolio in recent months, Harless wanted to create a personal logo that uniquely represented him but also included a Pixar-style easter egg. He landed on stylizing his initials in the form of a periodic table block and included the number 12 – a lucky number in his family with significant meaning.

Harless was the 12th patient to receive in utero spina bifida closure surgery. His parents opted for the then-experimental surgery after learning he had spina bifida, a birth defect caused when the skin does not close completely over the spine. The condition can result in weakened lower extremities, paralysis and mental impairments.

Eight weeks before Harless’ birth in 1998, surgeons at Vanderbilt University Medical Center removed his mother’s uterus from her body and cut a small opening in the uterus to reach the lesion on Nolan’s back. They successfully closed the opening in his skin, sealed the uterus and returned him inside his mother, allowing his body to develop through a full-term pregnancy.

Harless acknowledges the aftermath of the surgery caused some trying times for him and his family, not to mention consistent hospital visits for testing and follow-ups throughout the first 18 years of his life. Today, other than a scar on his lower back, Harless experiences no effects from his condition or the surgery.

Throughout his life, Harless has not let the condition get in the way of anything he does.

“It’s hard to encompass that all that happened and everything turned out the way it did – and now I’m at a university, I’m graduating and I’m walking, which is crazy,” Harless said. “I don't take any of it for granted, and I try to give myself checks and balances every once in a while and realize that, ‘Hey, things could be a little worse. You’ve got a good thing going.’”

As he graduates, Harless says his Northwest experiences have had a lasting impact on him and he has a new level of confidence to pursue his goals.

“Freshman year, there wasn’t even a blip on my radar of trying to go into something that mimics sales or talking to people,” he said. “What I’ve found out, working on different internships as well as being at Northwest, is that I can really get out of my bubble. Experiencing all the different organizations and clubs that I’ve been a part of and talking with students and faculty and networking with them has led me to having more confidence than I did coming in.”


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704