Eau Claire, WI – Scott Steenerson still isn’t sure he should have graduated from high school. Struggles in reading and math due to learning disabilities resulted in poor grades. But that was back in 1997. On Thursday, July 24, he graduated from Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) as a top student in the Manufacturing Engineering Technologist program, a member of the College’s honor society, and the student speaker for the commencement ceremony.
Steenerson was one of 129 graduates to receive degrees and diplomas in 26 different programs in CVTC’s summer graduating class. Welding and Radiography programs had the most graduates, with 17 each, followed by Diagnostic Medical Sonography with 16.
Last spring, Steenerson received both the achievement and leadership awards among all Manufacturing Engineering Technologist students. He was the only one scheduled for summer graduation.
It’s not as if Steenerson’s learning disabilities magically disappeared since his days at Elk River, Minn. High School, but he learned to deal with them and got the help he needed at CVTC.
“In high school, they didn’t have a lot of programs that helped with it,” Steenerson said. “There were a handful of classes I did pretty well in, but I think that had a lot to do with good teachers.”
Steenerson ended up settling in Hammond and holding a well-paying job at Andersen Windows. “I had a couple of people at Andersen who took me under their wings, and I started to catch on to things better,” he said. “That gave me the opportunity to work with the manufacturing engineers.”
When he became a victim in large layoff, two weeks after his second child was born, Steenerson knew he’d have to do better in the future to support a family of four. Eligibility for a federal program for displaced workers allowed him to enroll at CVTC. He started off scared.
“Considering my grades in high school, I was really concerned about whether I could pull off college-level classes,” Steenerson said. He had two tough ones right away in chemistry and math. “I was extremely nervous. Looking at the other students, half of them seemed young enough to be my kids.”
But Steenerson says he had two great teachers, Ron Keyes in chemistry and Dave Vollmer in math, who knew about his learning disabilities and gave him the extra help he needed. Steenerson also got help from the CVTC’s Academic Services Center. Success followed.
“When I got my final grades, I shocked myself, particularly in my math class, where I got an A when I had struggled so much in high school.”
More success followed. On Vollmer’s recommendation, Steenerson became a math tutor. When he started his program courses in manufacturing, Instructor Tom Vanderloop drew him into the student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, where he rose to a leadership position. Twice he represented CVTC with other team members at international competitions and was the team leader in one.
His exposure to lean manufacturing at Andersen Windows made him a valuable student. Instructor Hans Mikelson would bring him in to help with workshops on the subject.
Steenerson explained that, knowing his limitations, he was never hesitant to ask for help. When he got it, he shared it. “I’d grab some of the other students and explain it to them and we’d work out problems together.” Steenerson helped in efforts to extend tutoring programs to CVTC’s Gateway campus.
In addressing his fellow graduates, Steenerson said he feels a sense of sadness leaving CVTC because it has made such a difference in his life. “I’ve loved every one of the instructors I’ve had at CVTC,” he said.
Steenerson is already getting some job offers, but he’s hoping to lands something close to his current home and at a company where he can work to improve manufacturing procedures.
Like Steenerson, faculty speaker Jon Leenhouts had high praise for the teachers he learned from in his life. “Over time, I’ve remained interested in my own career, and have actively kindled new opportunities and have been willing to try new things – because of the type of teachers I’ve been fortunate to have had,” said Leenhouts, an award-winning trainer and consultant with CVTC’s Business & Industry team.
Commencement speaker Kathy Otto, medical assembly operations manager at Phillips Medisize, spoke of the skills gap with a different perspective. She told of a recent meeting with CVTC and business community leaders to identify training needs in the community.
“But in the end, one man stood up and summed up the gap for the entire business group: ‘We just want people that care – care!’ Every business leader in the room immediately agreed,” Otto said.
CVTC graduate Scott Steenerson is congratulated by his fiancée, Nova Yatckoske following the CVTC summer commencement ceremony held at Eau Claire Memorial High School Thursday, July 24.