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Alumni Spotlights

 

Grads share love story rooted in campus traditions

Most alumni agree that one of the best things – maybe THE best thing – about South Dakota Mines is the traditions and campus experiences that form strong connections. These connections aren’t easily lost, and for some, they become the reason two people might strike up a conversation in the first place. 

That was the case with Christina (ChemE 12) and Shawn (CE 09) McFarland when they met through mutual friends in Denver in 2013. They quickly realized they had both attended South Dakota Mines, and the rest was history. 

“Having that shared experience was a fun way to get to know someone,” Christina said. “It was a commonality that made it feel like we already knew one another despite not having met while on campus.” 

Christina and Shawn were married in 2016. They now have two children, Finn (3) and Remi (1). 

While their pride for their alma mater may have initially stemmed from the strong education, campus experiences and friends they made, it now extends beyond that. Once they reached milestones such as getting married, buying a home, and starting a family, Christina and Shawn realized their degrees from Mines offered something more tangible than that – a strong return on their investment.

Continue reading here.

February 2024

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From rocks to policy 

Erin McCullough uses her expertise to create positive change in nuclear work environments

Erin McCullough (MinE 14) was a self-described rock collection kid. “While out exploring, I would pick up interesting rocks, put them in my pocket, and eventually they would end up in the washing machine.”  

Like many children, Erin was fascinated by rocks, minerals, and dinosaurs. She remembers her father bringing her to her first fossil dig in first grade at a public paleontological site in eastern Washington State.  At the end of the trip, a senior ranger overseeing the dig inspected their numerous finds. She was happy the fossils she found were not too valuable because that meant she could keep them. Erin also left the trip with new inspiration. 

“The ranger was patient with all my questions. She took the time to explain to me the age of the rocks and how they formed.” The trip taught her that she could find interesting things right outside her door, and the passion to find something hidden stayed with her. 

After visiting the Museum of Geology and noticing the exceptional geological laboratory facilities and specimen available for undergraduates to study, her decision to attend college at South Dakota Mines was natural. Continue reading here.

January 2024

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Young alumnus receives prestigious NASA research award

NASA has a rich history in developing technologies that benefit both space travel and exploration that also contribute value back to life on Earth. For example, Velcro was a NASA-developed technology created to resist vibrations during launch and flight. Of course, now it is used on Earth for everything from hanging pictures to kids’ shoes. 

Jared Long-Fox (Geol 17, Geol 20) aims to continue this tradition of technology development benefitting space exploration and society in general, as he is conducting NASA-sponsored research right now that he thinks will benefit Earth one day, too.

Jared, a PhD student at the University of Central Florida (UCF), was accepted this year as a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity (NSTGRO) Fellow, a competitive program that accepts students with the potential to support NASA’s goal to establish permanent human and robotic presence on the moon and beyond. 

His planetary surface excavation research will help develop technologies that will make it more efficient and safer to build infrastructure and acquire resources on the lunar surface. This will be key for NASA, because the tough-to-work-with physical properties of the Moon’s surface material (regolith), combined with its having only 1/6 the amount of gravity as Earth, present quite the challenge when it comes to excavation and surface operations in general. Continue reading here.

December 2023

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Nothin' but net 

Mitchell Sueker's a winner both on and off the court

When Mitchell Sueker was a first-year student-athlete at Mines in 2017, he was asked why he was proud to be a part of the Hardrocker Men’s Basketball Program. His response was, “I’m proud to be a part of a family that challenges themselves in the classroom as well as on the court. We strive to be great in many areas of life, in addition to basketball.”

It was pretty evident that while he was committed to being a great basketball player at Mines, at the forefront of Mitchell’s mind was his ability to excel in multiple aspects of his life.

Now, at just 25 years old, you can tell he took that to heart. After graduating from Mines in just three years with his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Mitchell went on to the University of North Dakota for his master’s degree and doctorate in biomedical engineering, which he plans to complete this year. And he’s done it all while continuing to play college basketball. 

During his time with Mines, Mitchell was recognized as a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, a two-time RMAC All-Conference honoree, and a two-time RMAC All-Academic First Team selection. Continue reading here.

October 2023

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Leaving a mark 

Bruce Bad Moccasin (CE 72) left his mark on Mines, and then on South Dakota

One of Bruce Bad Moccasin’s (CE 72) memories from growing up in Pierre is of watching his dad work. 

“My dad worked a lot. He worked outside. I watched him all the time. He was a strong man.”

Seeing his dad work with his hands, Bruce decided at a young age that he wanted to be an engineer. Higher education was a priority to his parents, both of whom had an eighth grade education. They made it known that Bruce was expected to attend college.

“My mom said it didn’t matter what I did as long as I went. Dad always said, ‘Get your degree first, then make a family.’” 

Since he’d decided on engineering, the only part left to figure out was which college he’d attend. 

“I knew a lot of students were going over there to [South Dakota State University]. I went up there to check it out, but it was too big. I wanted a smaller place.” 

Not too long after, at one of his high school track meets, he met Coach Jim Kampen from South Dakota Mines. Kampen was a coach for basketball and cross country.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Someone said you want to be an engineer. Well, you can do that here, and we’ll also let you run and play basketball.’ So that’s what I did.” Continue reading here.

September 2023

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Hani Shafai (CE 87) isn't afraid to dream big

Even when all of the cards were stacked against him – when most people probably would have thrown in the towel – Hani Shafai (CE 87) never gave up on his dream to become an engineer. Never.

And it wasn’t just the degree that he wanted; he wanted to improve communities and improve peoples’ lives, and he knew he could do that as an engineer. Hani had experienced enough during his childhood to understand that he wanted to be a builder, and to him, building cross-community relationships and apartment complexes went hand in hand. 

It only takes one conversation with Hani about his background to understand just how much determination he must have had to make his goal a reality. Hani grew up in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian exclave that has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. 

“The environment I grew up in was a war zone” he said. “There was always destruction. So that gets you thinking, ‘how do I make things that can protect people and help people?’

His journey to South Dakota Mines started at a university in West Bank, Palestine where he met Jack Anderson, visiting math professor from Hill City, SD. When that university shut down a year later due to political conflicts, Jack encouraged Hani to transfer to Mines and continue his education there. 

“I didn’t tell anyone that I was leaving, not even my parents. I knew that it would be difficult, and I also didn’t know when I would be able to go back.” Continue reading here.

August 2023

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Mining career led alumna all around the world and back to Mines

If you would have told Andrea Brickey (MinE 99) as an undergraduate that she would one day return to South Dakota Mines as a professor, she probably would have laughed.

“Being a professor was not on my list of things to do,” she said.

But 16 years later that’s exactly what she did. And not only that – she moved into the office of retiring professor Charles (Chuck) Kliche (MinE 74), her mentor and the very person who suggested she become an educator in the first place. 

“He told me I should go out and get industry experience and then get a Ph.D. and come back and move into his office. I showed up a year before he left, so I guess he was right.” 

Dr. Brickey is now in her eighth year with the Department of Mining Engineering & Management and was recently promoted to Full Professor. This year she received the 2023 Mining and Exploration Division Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, & Exploration, an organization she’s belonged to since her undergraduate years. The award honors members who have made outstanding contributions to the mining and exploration division. 

Dr. Brickey’s path to the mining industry and to engineering started early on. Her father spent most of his career in mining and was working as a coal miner in southern Illinois when she was born. Perhaps that’s why, years later when she landed at South Dakota Mines, the mining department felt like the best fit for her. Continue reading here.

July 2023

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The power of mindset 

Toward the end of his commencement speech this May, Chami Senarath (Physics 18, MS Physics 21, CSc 23) reminded his fellow graduates that they have the power to choose how to move forward during challenging times. 

“We all have and are going to experience suffering at some point. We can either not acknowledge it and take it out on other people…or we can be defiant and accept that suffering is part of life too and transform it into something beautiful, into some sort of healing state.” 

Chami has learned this from experience. He left Sri Lanka, reluctantly, in 2014 to study in America, and most of what he can remember from those early months was sadness and anxiety. While he knew English, it was difficult communicating at first, having to translate every sentence in his head before speaking it. And, of course, all of his surroundings were unfamiliar. He remembers crying a lot.

“I thought many times about going back home,” he said. “It was very overwhelming trying to figure out what I enjoyed and how to relate to other people.”

But in the midst of all of this adversity, he decided to do something brave. He changed his mindset completely and went way outside his comfort zone. Despite not knowing anything about snow, fraternities or sheet music, Chami joined the Clean Snowmobile Team, Lambda Chi Alpha and several music ensembles at Mines. He also took part in the Friday night dinners at the International House and recognizes now how important the house staff and other students were to his experience. Continue reading here.

June 2023 

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Young alumnus shows Graco what it means to be a Hardrocker 

If you ask the right questions, you can accomplish anything. That’s something Grant Nelson (ME 19) learned when he was a student at South Dakota Mines. 

“Being a student at Mines sort of reprograms your brain to first consider, ‘What questions should I be asking?’” he said.

He put that philosophy to work in his class projects, as a member and president of the Formula CAMP team, and even now in his current role with Graco in Minneapolis. In just four years with the company, Grant has moved from Field Application Sales Engineer to Technical Application Specialist and now to Global Product Manager working in the fluid handling industry. 

Part of his job entails inspiring others who are working toward a common objective. It was with the Formula team at Mines that Grant, of Fargo, ND, noticed his knack for leadership and his love of working with others toward a similar goal. 

“I found it very rewarding to see all of us get on the same page,” he said. “[CAMP] is where I learned just how much can get accomplished even in a short period of time when everyone is aligned and has a single greater purpose.” 

And Grant knows something about accomplishing a lot in a short period of time. Continue reading here.

May 2023 

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The problem solver who puts values first

 

After holding several global leadership positions, founding his own private firm, and serving on several public and private company boards, Gaurdie Banister Jr. (MetE 80) thinks he gained one of the most important leadership skills from his alma mater.

“South Dakota Mines is where I learned how to learn,” he said. “That ability has helped me a lot throughout my career, especially when it comes to solving problems.”

And one look at Gaurdie’s bio makes it clear that he is just that – a problem solver. For 8 years, he led Aera Energy LLC, now recognized as a leader for its innovative approach toward lean manufacturing. Before that, he held several leadership positions for Shell, including Technical VP roles for its Upstream Asia Pacific and Upstream America operations as well as VP of Business Development and Technology and President of EP Gas and Power. 

His experience on boards also indicates his willingness to tackle hard issues. During his time on the Tyson Foods board, he was Lead Director, chair of the Compensation and Leadership Committee and the Strategy and Acquisitions Committee. He currently sits on the board of the Houston Fund for Social Justice and Economic Equity. 

Solving problems is one of the reasons Gaurdie’s advisor urged him to look into South Dakota Mines.

“I was always tinkering with things as a kid. I liked to solve complex problems.” 

His parents may have instilled that in him. Gaurdie grew up in Casper, Wyo. after his parents, in his words, “took a bold step.” 

Continue reading here.

April 2023


 

Alumnus finally tells the story he's been carrying for 50 years

 

Marv Truhe (ME 67) was 27 years old when racial tensions sparked the USS Kitty Hawk Riot of 1972. The aircraft carrier was engaged in airstrikes off the coast of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War when a conflict broke out between sailors the night of Oct. 12. Twenty-five black sailors were charged with rioting and assaults, while not a single white crew member was charged. 

Marv, a US Navy JAG lawyer at the time, defended six of the black sailors at their special courts-martial trials. He started writing about the experience soon after, but between his career and starting a family, he could never give it the attention it deserved. But the events stuck with him, haunting him time and time again for nearly 50 years. 

After the military, Marv served as Assistant Attorney General for South Dakota before entering private practice in Rapid City. When he retired, he decided it was time to tell the Kitty Hawk riot story that he felt had not been told. He published his book, “Against All Tides: The Untold Story of the Kitty Hawk Race Riot”, last year, marking the 50th anniversary of the event.  

 

Continue reading here.

 

March 2023


 

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


 

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


 

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


 

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