Skip to Main Content

Alumni Spotlights

 

Alumna mentors new generation of Hardrocker women

 

Corinne Heiberger (IE 08) understands firsthand the importance of having a mentor in the workplace. When she took a job as a plant engineer in Utah, she became the first female engineer at that site. And it wasn’t easy.

“It took a lot of work to become a part of that team,” she said. “I definitely had pranks pulled on me on a regular basis. But thankfully I had great mentors who helped me through.”

It wasn’t the first or last time she’d be the only woman in the room. It started when she was an industrial engineering student at South Dakota Mines. While this remains a reality for many women STEM students, one big difference on the Mines campus is the Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) Program.  

Corinne has been director of WiSE since Fall of 2020. The program’s purpose is to educate, recruit, retain, graduate academically motivated women in STEM fields. Aside from having a dedicated space on campus, WiSE has several core programs that support its students – peer mentoring, panel discussions with women in industry, an orientation for incoming students, a formal networking dinner with industry representatives who are on campus for the career fair, and a new WiSE Scholars program that awards scholarships to a small group of women who are required to meet GPA requirements and complete other assignments such as meet with Corinne for mentoring.

“My professors here were always very supportive, but I know other women who have different stories. We want to be here for all of them - the women who haven’t felt supported and feel stuck in the shadows, while continuing to empower those who have had positive experiences. And we also want to prepare them to be the best they can be in an industry in which they will likely be a minority.”

Continue reading here.

February 2023


 

Hall of Fame Hardrocker dedicates medical career to veterans

Lisa Zacher, M.D., MACP, FCCP (Chem 85) knew from a young age that she wanted to help people, and specifically that she wanted to go into medicine or science.

“We didn’t have any history of doctors in our family, and everyone always had so much respect for the town physician.”  

Dr. Zacher calls Eagle Butte her hometown even though the family moved around a lot due to her father’s occupation as a coach. Her mother, a teacher, would bring home extra homework assignments for her and her siblings that were sometimes a level or two above their current grade. 

The extra studying and appreciation for learning certainly paid off when Lisa and her older brother, Dr. Jeff Zacher (Chem 83), became students at South Dakota Mines and again when both were medical students at the University of South Dakota. She remembers looking at the courses listed in the academic catalog at Mines and thinking “I want to take them all,” even if they weren’t required for her major.

“We knew that School of Mines was where the students good in math and science went, and in Eagle Butte they called it the ‘School of Minds’ so that’s where we wanted to go,” she said. "I did not know when I started at Mines that there was a pathway to medicine – but the Chemistry degree worked out well, and I was an early select for USD based on the reputation of South Dakota Mines."

She commented that in many ways, she found Mines to be more challenging than medical school. Perhaps she remembers it as more challenging since she wasn’t just balancing her academics but was juggling life as a three-sport athlete. Dr. Zacher played basketball and volleyball for four years at Mines, picking up track in her senior year. She was inducted into the Hardrocker Hall of Fame in 2008. 

While Dr. Zacher envisioned her future as a doctor when she was just a child, she never predicted that she would join the military and spend her career serving our country’s veterans. But what started as a military scholarship with the Army to help pay for medical school ended up a passion.

Continue reading here.

January 2023


 

Jerry Logan (MinE 83) climbed the Navy ranks; now he helps others climb mountains

Alumnus credits Mines for providing foundation for a successful military career 

When Jerry Logan (MinE 83) was a student at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, it never crossed his mind to talk to the Navy submarine recruiters when they were on campus. He had never really considered going into the military, and current events at that time didn’t necessarily turn him on to the idea. Plus, the Belle Fourche native had a keen interest in engineering and saw himself entering the mining field after graduation. 

However, several role models, a book, and a recession aided in his decision to consider the military. One of the first people to plant that seed was one of his football coaches at Mines who happened to be a captain stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. 

“He was a very sharp and caring person who challenged you to do well, and that was one of my closest interactions with someone in the military,” said Jerry. 

Additionally, one of his seven sisters was in ROTC in college, and another had been appointed to the Air Force Academy. But perhaps the most pivotal connection was another sister’s brother-in-law who was in the Navy. He told Jerry about the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. 

“That caught my attention, and at the time I was also reading a book about John F. Kennedy which talked about his time in WWII. I thought, maybe I’ll give this a try. I’ll go see a little bit of the world and then I’ll come back and go to work in a mine in Wyoming.”  

Jerry figured he would stay in the Navy for just one, five-year commitment. However, 30 years later he retired as a Navy Captain. When asked why he didn’t stick to his five-year plan, he recalls his commanding officer as a shift engineer at a reactor plant in Idaho.

Continue reading here.

November 2022


 

Hardrocker couple devotes time to nonprofit and to growing software job opportunities in Rapid City

Todd Gagne (GEOL 97) said one of the most important pieces of knowledge he gained from his education at South Dakota Mines was the ability to look at almost any problem and say: I can figure this out. That’s what he and his wife, Holly (CSC 94), said when they were asked to run Thrive, a nonprofit associated with Love INC. 

Thrive provides two main services: a juvenile diversion program where youth gain community service hours in exchange for fixing up donated bicycles; and a program for adults who need transportation – if they can put in a few hours of work on a bike of their choosing, it’s theirs to keep, along with a helmet and a lock. Similar to other Love INC services, individuals are referred to Thrive from nonprofits such as Hope Center and Cornerstone. 

Both Holly and Todd admit they didn’t really know what they were getting into when they decided to take on Thrive. The first phase of their professional lives looked a lot different than running a nonprofit. Holly worked for Microsoft for eight years before having their two children. Todd worked for a software company for 19 years which involved a lot of global travel. While the job provided many opportunities and experiences, the time away from his family started to take a toll on them.  

The opportunity to run Thrive came at the right time. It had already been operating under Love INC, but it needed a new building and a new operations model. 

“We’re both pretty driven, Type A people, so it wasn’t always easy,” Todd says with a laugh. “But we both believed in a vision of where we wanted to go, and we both bring different skills to the table.”

While Thrive’s programs offer obvious benefits to the community and those involved, the Gagnes have found that it’s about much more than a bike for the participants and the volunteers. For the adults, reliable transportation can lead to a stable job, then to the ability to afford housing, and more. For youth, the program can provide a stabilizing force in their lives as well as an opportunity to explore interests and possible careers. Some of the youth participate just because they’re interested in working on bikes.  

Read the full story here.

December 2022


 

Alumnus rockets to success

Scott Lehr talks taking risks and going your own way

When Scott Lehr (CE 84) was 5 years old, he sent a letter to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) asking if watches worked in space. Not only did NASA answer his question, but they continued to send him mail for several years.

“They sent me materials for years on the human space mission, so I have a big folder with all these NASA fact sheets and pictures of astronauts.”

That was the beginning of Lehr’s lifelong interest, both personal and professional, with science – space, in particular. He grew up in Aberdeen, SD during the Apollo days and remembers watching the moon landing in 1969. 

It’s no surprise Lehr wanted to attend South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. The school had a great reputation locally and regionally and also had good relationships with many companies in the industry. As a student, he valued the small class sizes and dedicated professors who came with lots of industry experience. He remembers they would gladly spend time helping students get through tough courses. 

Even though he studied civil engineering, he never lost his interest in aerospace engineering. The Cold War was still in full swing as he neared graduation, and the Berlin Wall hadn’t yet fallen. The defense industry was booming. His advisor, Bill Coyle, who Lehr remembers fondly, wanted him to remain a civil engineer. But Lehr couldn’t kick his initial love of space. He decided his civil engineering studies from Mines taught him enough of the fundamentals that he could veer in another direction if he wanted.

Nearly 39 years later, he’s glad he took the risk. And according to Lehr, he didn’t have much of a choice after his first time witnessing a rocket launch. 

Continue reading here.

August 2022


 

Terry Rassmussen's behind-the-scenes work cultivated Mines-Nucor relationship

When Terry Rasmussen (MetE 91) graduated from South Dakota Mines, he never imagined he’d go on to have such a big role in the university’s history. But on April 21, he found himself on campus with his colleagues at Nucor, celebrating the company’s $5 million gift – the largest yet for the university – for a new Mineral Industries building.

“I certainly didn’t think when I graduated that I’d be doing this, but it was my relationship with Dr. [John] Keller that kept me in touch with the university and thinking about what we could do to make the relationship between Nucor and Mines better,” he said.

Terry, now metal shop coordinator in Norfolk and coming up on 30 years with Nucor, started as a metallurgist and went on to hold a number of positions with the company. In the early 2000’s, he and Keller started to realize the potential for recruiting Mines students to Norfolk and throughout Nucor. Terry started to post jobs with the university and come out to career fairs, which led to hiring several interns. 

“It can be difficult to convince qualified people to move to Norfolk from Pittsburgh or Chicago, for example, and we noticed there were a lot of Mines students who were a good fit for Nucor,” he said.

Not long after, Mines alumni were working in multiple divisions within Nucor, peaking the company’s interest in developing more of a relationship with the university.  

Continue reading here.

April 2022