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Outstanding Recent Graduate Award Recipients

The Outstanding Recent Graduate Award was established at South Dakota Mines in 1984 to honor graduates who have achieved exemplary career progress and recognition within 10 years of their graduation. Criteria for selection includes entrepreneurial effort, professional advancement, innovative research endeavors, technical or entrepreneurial accomplishments, community service, and industry or community recognition. Awardees serve as excellent role models who showcase the importance of continued personal growth in a rapidly changing society.

Meet the 2023 Outstanding Recent Graduate Award Recipients

Brett Carlson (MetE 13) Dr. Brett Carlson completed a B.S. degree in Metallurgical Engineering from South Dakota Mines in 2013. He then went on to graduate school at the Colorado School of Mines, where in 2018, he completed a Ph.D. in Materials and Metallurgical Engineering with a specialization in extractive metallurgy. After working for a time in the recycling and industrial mineral sector, he took a position as a Technology Transfer Fellow at the Steel and Metals Institute at Swansea University in the UK. At Swansea, Brett worked primarily with the UK steel industry on the optimization of blast furnaces. In the spring of 2021, Brett returned to South Dakota Mines to join the Materials and Metallurgical Engineering faculty as an assistant professor, where he teaches courses relating to extractive metallurgy and is active in research relating to the recycling and critical minerals fields.


William (Bill) Eldridge (GeolE 15) currently serves as a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Dakota Water Science Center. He has authored or co-authored over a dozen publications and data releases investigating hydrologic issues in South Dakota and North Dakota and is the center's groundwater specialist. Bill was born in Duluth, Minnesota, and grew up near Gwinn, Michigan. After high school, he served in the military and was stationed at bases across the United States and in the Middle East. After military service, Bill attended South Dakota Mines and earned undergraduate and master's degrees in geological engineering in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Bill and his family currently reside in Rapid City, South Dakota.



Erin McCullough (MinE 14) is an oversight professional for the federal government, where she advances interests in nuclear safety throughout the domestic defense nuclear complex. After completing a master’s degree in mining engineering at Virginia Tech, she started her federal career with the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey. Her economic modelling of “critical minerals” and original cobalt supply chain research defined her impact with the National Science and Technology Council, a White House advisory function. More than 20 peer-reviewed academic publications acknowledge Ms. McCullough as an author, some of which have been cited in congressional deliberations and formal agency actions concerning mineral resource policy.  

Ms. McCullough’s drive for improving environmental quality inspired her to enroll in the George Mason Law night program and transfer to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she further developed the liquefied natural gas federal administrative review process. Multiple federal awards formally recognize the significance of her work, including one noting that she “was able to identify several potential significant impacts that if left unmitigated had the potential to cause failure of facilities containing hazardous fluids and potential offsite impacts to the public.” As a registered professional engineer and lawyer, Ms. McCullough enthusiastically approaches complex policy challenges that benefit from a multidisciplinary perspective. 


Rachel Pekarek (CSc 13) is a tech lead at Transcarent, where she works to increase affordable health care access through the company’s iPhone and Android applications. She and her team use the latest mobile and AI technologies to quickly connect users with reliable care. Rachel first began mobile app development at Mines, where she worked as an intern for Innovative Systems. After graduation, she moved to Boulder, Colorado, where she furthered this skillset as a consultant for Exadel (5 years) and as an application architect for Gloo (3 years). She's recently relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she continues to work remotely.



Eirik Valseth (ME 15) is an associate professor of scientific computing at The Norwegian University of Life Science, an affiliated researcher at Simula Research Laboratory, and a research associate at The Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Eirik was advised by Professor Albert Romkes, a former student of Professor John Tinsley Oden (considered to be the father of computational mechanics). After leaving South Dakota Mines in 2019, Eirik was employed at the Oden Institute as a postdoc and later promoted to research associate. At The Oden Institute, he works with Professor Clint Dawson and oversees and advises a large group of postdocs, researchers, and PhD students, and serves as PI and Co-PI for several projects. Since 2019, he has published significantly in top journals, and has given more than 50 presentations and seminars at top conferences and research institutions across the world. In 2022, he was awarded the Marie Curie Fellowship, the most prestigious fellowship for junior researchers in the European Union, and started a tenured professorship in January 2023. 

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