SDI: What Does a Degree or Certificate Get You?

Previously we discussed how online gunsmithing works and what SDI is. Today we talk to Rick Casner from the Sonoran Desert Institute about what their programs get you. 


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About SDI


Sonoran Desert Institute is a DEAC accredited, online school that helps students learn the skills and techniques they’ll need to be successful in the firearms and unmanned technology industries. SDI’s faculty is comprised of professionals with decades of industry experience, and our programs are designed to combine modern learning methods, hands-on training options, and the flexibility of online education.

Sonoran Desert Institute was founded in 2000, and was approved for training by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education in 2001. The Institute was accredited in 2004 by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). The DEAC is listed by the United States Department of Education as a recognized institutional accrediting agency for distance education. The DEAC is also recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

At its inception, the Institute offered Gunsmithing as a program, which ultimately became the foundation for SDI’s growth. Key to the success of the Institute is its comprehensive approach to easily understood curriculum, attention to providing quality service to its students, and the flexibility of its instructional model.

In 2012, Sonoran Desert Institute was acquired by the Trade Training Company, LLC. This transfer was approved by DEAC and the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education. In 2014, SDI introduced armorer courses as part of its programs.

Also in 2014, SDI applied to DEAC for Title IV Certification. In 2015, after receiving approval from DEAC, the institute submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to offer Pell Grants and Direct Loans to students in the Associate of Science in Firearms Technology. This change was primarily prompted by the Department of Defense’s regulatory change linking eligibility for Active Duty Tuition Assistance to schools approved for Title IV funding. Recognizing the high percentage of military students in our student population, SDI deemed this as an important initiative. SDI began offering Title IV funding to students in January 2016. In January 2018, after receiving approval from Department of Education, SDI also began offering Title IV funding to students in the certificate program.

In June 2018, SDI was granted a 5-year renewal of accreditation and in fall of 2018, SDI transitioned to become an employee owned company (ESOP). SDI takes pride in upholding the standards of multiple regulatory bodies while continuing a student-centric focus on academic quality and superior service to students!

In January 2022, SDI introduced the School of Unmanned Technology and began to offer the Certificate in Unmanned Technology – Aerial Systems program.

Results and Programs

Congratulations, you’ve desired to pursue gunsmithing as a career. Once you make the decision and start your courses, it’s important to start thinking about where you want to be after graduation. 

SDI offers two programs, a degree and a certificate. 

The certificate program is shorter, taking about a year and a half to complete rather than two years. It also only includes the technical courses. The 60-credit degree program, in comparison, includes general education requirements, like any other degree program.

There are many reasons someone may choose one option over another. If you already have a business degree and decide to start your own shop or work for someone else, the certificate program is likely a good option for you. For someone with no degree, even with some experience, a degree program provides an extra resume boost and opens up a number of doors just because you have a degree. 

Previously, we talked about these programs a bit more in depth. The general education courses are not just fluff, but oriented towards students’ interests and needs. In example, reading and writing courses are pointed towards helping students’ developing business skills they need for recordkeeping and interacting with customers. 

Rick, before he joined SDI, took a traditional associate’s degree path since he was new to the gun industry and starting his career. He sought a degree to differentiate himself from others. Currently, Rick noted that many of SDI’s students come in with PhD’s and high-level degrees, but are looking for something different. In these cases, gunsmithing is either a secondary career or way to supplement income. 

It’s important to realize that students also have the option to take certain courses a la carte, even if they aren’t enrolled in the degree or certificate program. This is ideal if there are specific skills students want to learn. (SDI did experience some supply-chain issues surrounding COVID that made these programs temporarily unavailable to part-time students, but they are coming back.) 

Value of a Degree or Certificate

Besides a fancy piece of paper and knowledge, completing an SDI program offers a host of benefits. Not only does it differentiate you and your resume from others, it also can serve as a confidence booster. Rick remembers seeking a trade-school associate’s degree out of high school, believing it was the easiest option. He loved gunsmithing school and it changed the way he viewed his capabilities and education. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Completing a program shows you are serious and dedicated, not just a casual gun enthusiast. Education makes you a well-rounded individual with a wide breadth of knowledge. Rather than just focusing on things you like or things you know, a diverse curriculum requires you to move outside your comfort zone. An example of this is SDI’s required checkering lab. Many students expect it to be easier than it is and even if they never expect to use that skill, are glad they had the experience. 

I can personally relate to how interests change over time. When I was pursuing my mechanical engineering degree, I had zero interest in business courses. Now that I’m running my own business, I have an interest in business finance because it’s critical to my success. The moral of the story? You may use or need something in the future you never thought you had a use for when you learned it (or failed to). 

Professional organizations exist to connect people with similar skills and/or careers. They generally have similar interests and can learn from one another. Gunsmithing has its own professional community. SDI has discussion boards on various topics for students to interact with. It also affords you a chance to meet new people to network with. Networking in any industry is crucial. It gives you people to rely on for anything from knowledge to advice and referrals! 

As a YouTuber, I often turn to my community. Recently I consulted @LaserEverything to answer some questions about my new fiber laser. In return, I’m helping him grow his channel. Symbiotic professional relationships are especially refreshing as you are working with others just as dedicated as you. 


Completing a degree or certificate program has a variety of benefits that can open a number of doors. Keep in mind that education is neverending. There is always something new you can learn, especially from other professionals.Check out the Sonoran Desert Institute if you’re curious about or interested in remote gunsmithing courses! 

Contact SDI online:

Or by phone: 480-999-4767

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Gavin Gear

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