J.W. Platt graduated with a B.A. in History from Northwestern Oklahoma State University and then earned his M.A. in History at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He spent about eight years in Central America. First, he worked on a Fulbright Research Grant in Guatemala, and then he was a cattle rancher in Costa Rica. After he returned to the United States, he continued to travel in Latin America as an exporter of agricultural equipment, before settling back home in southern Kansas as a farmer-rancher. In 1999, he began adjunct teaching in History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. In 2003, he was hired as full-time faculty.