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Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

South Dakota Mines alumni are known for pursuing excellence in their careers. The Distinguished Alumni program was started in 1998 to recognize the outstanding contributions South Dakota Mines graduates not only to the fields of engineering and science, but also to their communities and the university. Their accomplishments serve as an inspiration for future generations and highlight the great impact South Dakota Mines alumni can make in this world.

Meet the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients 


Dave Berg (ME 73)

After working in private industry for 11 years, David Berg returned to Rapid City in 1982 and co-founded West Plains Engineering, Inc., in 1984. During his career, the company grew to fifty-three employees with four offices in three states. The firm hired engineers from Mines as well as provided internships and summer jobs for students. Dave retired as president and CEO in 2011. Dave is a lifetime member of the American Council of Engineering Companies where he held offices at both state and national level.  He is also a life member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

After retirement, Dave volunteered his engineering services to assist in the design and review of the HVAC systems for the Pearson Alumni Center and Placer Hall at Mines. Dave was honored to receive the Guy E. March Medal from Mines in 2011. He currently is a member of the Mechanical Department Advisory Board. He served on the Mines Foundation (now CARA) Executive Board for 12 years, the Alumni Association Board of Directors, and co-chaired the 2015 alumni reunion.  As alumni president in 2016, he helped initiate the monthly alumni gathering in Rapid City. 


Julie Carver (GeolE 86) 

Julie Carver is the founding principal of Congruent Environmental Strategies, LLC a woman-owned small business providing strategic environmental consulting services to public and private-sector clients. Prior to starting Congruent in 2015, she worked for more than 25 years for several international engineering firms. Ms. Carver is a subject matter expert in the implementation of sustainable development programs focused on circular economy and zero-waste solutions, integrating sustainable development goals into business practices and programs, and redeveloping economically and environmentally impaired property. 

Ms. Carver holds a bachelor’s degree in Geological Engineering from South Dakota Mines, a master’s degree in Environmental Science & Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and is a registered professional engineer.  She is finishing a three-year term as as the chairperson of the Board of Directors for the South Dakota Mines Center for Alumni Relations & Advancement, as an external advisory board member for the Mines Center for Sustainable Solutions and is/has been a board member of several nonprofit organizations. She has also served in the past as a guest lecturer in the Civil Engineering Department at Mines and is passionate about promoting the wonderful STEM education that Mines provides to anyone who will listen.

In her spare time, Ms. Carver enjoys traveling all over the world, experiencing other cultures and enjoying the great outdoors with her husband (who is also a Mines graduate) and their two lovable black labs.


John (Jack) Hazel (ChE 85) 

Following many regional and global roles across both ExxonMobil Chemical and ExxonMobil Global Services Company, Jack Hazel retired after nearly 36 years of service. His career started in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at one of ExxonMobil’s largest integrated manufacturing sites as a production engineer, and quickly advanced to technical and operations supervision. He then moved to Houston headquarters in business planning assignments across several global business units and technology. In Brussels, Belgium, he oversaw assets in Saudi Arabia and France and the marketing of products across Europe/Middle East and Africa. His global marketing and strategy expertise helped reshaped one of ExxonMobil’s businesses for future earnings growth. 

Jack’s passion for giving back and serving has always been a priority. He has been an active member of the community, serving in numerous volunteer and board advisory roles.  His recent roles as commissioner for a local fire department in a suburb of Houston, crew leader for Rebuild Together Houston, and confirmation teacher for high school students were particularly rewarding. Prior to retiring, Jack was recognized by ExxonMobil with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to ExxonMobil and his community involvement.     


Dean Schauer (MetE 89) 

Dean Schauer is currently the President and CEO of Confluent Medical Technologies, a position he has held for 10 years. Confluent is a market-leading global medical device contract manufacturer headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ with 8 global facilities. Confluent uses differentiated Materials Science expertise in the design, development, and manufacturing of medical implants, components, complex interventional catheters, delivery systems, guidewires, and materials.

During Dean’s tenure, Confluent has grown its profitability by over 1,000% through organic growth and the successful integration of 6 acquisitions. This growth was accomplished while maintaining Confluent’s deep values-based culture and industry-leading employee engagement. As a result of Dean’s leadership, in 2022, TPG purchased a majority stake in Confluent at a valuation of $2.0B. With the new partnership between the Confluent Team, TPG and Ampersand Capital, Confluent is positioned to continue its market-leading growth through investments in innovative materials science technologies and breakthrough medical devices that serve patients with a broad array of complex cardiac, neurovascular and metabolic diseases.
Dean also serves on the boards of directors for The Electrospinning Company, Vantage Medical Technologies, and The Producto Group. Prior to Confluent, Dean held several staff and executive level leadership positions within Accellent, a leader in the medical device contract manufacturing industry.


Roderick Sowders (ME 86)

Rod Sowders is the President and CEO of Synergy Flavors, Inc., joining the company in 2003 after its acquisition by The Carbery Group. Under Sowders' strategic guidance, Synergy Flavors has achieved exponential growth, increasing revenue and profits more than 25-fold through innovation, strategic focus, and selective acquisitions. In addition to his role at Synergy, Rod is a valuable member of Carbery’s Global Leadership Team, contributing his insights and expertise to help shape the organization’s strategy. 

Mr. Sowders is a highly accomplished executive and visionary leader in the flavor industry, with a strong background in the sciences. He earned an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the South Dakota Mines and later obtained an MBA from Emory University. The combination of his engineering and business degrees has propelled him to success in the food and beverage sector. Prior to joining Synergy, Sowders held senior executive positions at Sensient Technologies, and Monsanto, where he started his career. 

Under Sowders’ leadership, Synergy became an active member of the Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA), which, among other accomplishments, worked with the FDA to develop the FEMA GRAS program many years ago. Mr. Sowders has served on the Board of the association for the past eight years, working to advance the flavor industry domestically and globally. 

Under Sowders' leadership, Synergy Flavors has actively supported education and community development in Madagascar, a country that is incredibly strategic to the global vanilla industry yet has some of the highest poverty rates in the world. Approximately 75% of the population lives below the international poverty line. By building 11 schools, Synergy Flavors has made a significant impact in addressing educational disparities and improving livelihoods in the region known for vanilla bean production. Additionally, Mr. Sowders serves on the Advisory Board for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, as well as working with other local youth organizations such as Young Entrepreneurs Academy.

Through his extensive industry knowledge and dedication to making a positive impact, Sowders continues to drive Synergy Flavors' success, ensuring the company remains at the forefront of flavor innovation and customer satisfaction while actively supporting education and the local communities in which they operate.

Mines Advancement Fund

The Mines Advancement Fund supports the greatest needs of our students and faculty, including scholarships, department resources, facilities updates, industry partnerships, and more. With every dollar gifted to the Mines Advancement Fund, the Center for Alumni Relations & Advancement raises an average of $9 more to support departments, scholarships, and programs. 
Consider designating your gift to the Mines Advancement Fund to maximize your influence at South Dakota Mines.