State Tech graduates record 796 students

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 5/17/23

LINN   — A record-breaking 796 students earned certificates or diplomas at three ceremonies at the State Tech Activity Center in the largest graduation in the college’s history.

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State Tech graduates record 796 students


LINN  — A record-breaking 796 students earned certificates or diplomas at three ceremonies at the State Tech Activity Center in the largest graduation in the college’s history.

State Tech alumni and Board of Regents VP Steve Sellenriek offered graduates plenty of advice at Saturday’s commencement exercise.

“I sat here 26 years ago in the same seats you are in today, and I was excited about the future and proud to graduate from State Tech and enter the workforce,” he said. “You should be too.”

Sellenriek graduated from State Tech (formerly known as Linn Tech) in 1997 with a certificate in Heavy Equipment Technology. He was employed by Sellenriek Construction and began as a laborer and helping in the shop, which at the time, was a 25-person operation doing telecom construction.

“Under my father’s leadership, the company started growing, and we have not stopped,” said Sellenriek, noting that today, there are three businesses — Sellenriek Construction, Sellenriek Energy, and UtiliSource — providing broadband construction, directional boring, engineering, locating, electrical distribution, GIS mapping, and construction software development with more than 300 full-time employees.

“I have worked from being a laborer, operator, foreman, director of operation, and now president for the last 10 years,” Sellenriek said. “We are proud to have been a part of many infrastructure projects that have brought essential utilities to homes and businesses in the Midwest. It was built with a simple motto from my father: ‘Do what is right for the customer, take care of the employees, and everything else will work itself out.’ And our organization still does that every day.”

Sellenriek told graduates that while he could talk all day about his father’s beliefs, he instead spoke of their future, paraphrasing a quote from Thornton Melon in the classic movie “Back to School,” in which Rodney Dangerfield told fellow grads, “It’s rough out there! Stay in school!”

He offered six pieces of advice that some of the smartest people he knows have given him over the last 26 years. “I wish I had gotten this advice sooner as it would have stopped me from getting in trouble and made our organization more money,” said Sellenriek.

— Leadership matters. “Find an organization that pays you well and provides good benefits, but what will make the difference in your career is finding an organization with great leadership,” he offered. “Great leaders will set the company up with a vision and goals and then empower their team to accomplish them. Find a company that values talent. Great leaders surround themselves with talented people that are smarter than themselves for the good of the company. I can tell you that I am not the smartest person in our organization. And great leaders will never ask you to do something that they won’t do or haven’t done themselves.”

Sellenriek told graduates to avoid being disgusted if they have to “put their time in” to get promoted and advance in their careers because it’s all part of the journey. “Keep in mind that the cream always rises to the top over time,” he added. “And you certainly have proven to pick great organizations as you are graduating from the number one school in the country.”

— Communication is key. “Do not be afraid to ask questions or make suggestions,” said Sellenriek. “Even if your supervisors or coworkers don’t use your suggestion, they will pay attention and appreciate that you are thinking about the process. Also, never send an email, text, or post on social media while you are angry. Don’t be that person. Wait until you have calmed down, reread it, ask a colleague for advice, and then send it if you determine it’s the right thing to do.”

— Listen, because the smartest people in the room always listen and think about all sides of a situation. “When they speak, they are taking the organization in the direction they believe is the best path forward,” he said. “Great leaders pay attention to who is listening, and those individuals advance in the company. Also, if an old timer says, ‘I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but …,’ make sure to pay close attention to what comes next because it will prove to be invaluable.”

— Never quit learning. “I have been out of school for 26 years, and I am constantly trying to learn something new every day,” said Sellenriek. “My goal when I go to a trade show is to come out of it with something I can take back that will benefit the organization. If you quit learning, the world will pass you by.”

— Strive for work/life balance. “Some folks listening to this speech will go, ‘What did he say?’ because they know I’m a workaholic,” said Sellenriek. “Spend quality time with your family and friends because they are the reason you go to work. Make the sacrifices of your time, so when you do spend time with them, please make it quality time.”

One of Sellenriek’s favorite activities is spending time with family, especially his nieces and nephews.

— Pay it forward. “This is the other part of the work/life balance,” he said. “I have been a part of building many infrastructure projects, bringing essential utilities to people’s homes and businesses, but the work I have done in the community gives me the most joy. Working at the Jonesburg Homecoming in the food stand, coaching little league, cooking ribs for the Shriners, and being on the Board of Regents here at State Tech make all the work pay off.”

Sellenriek serves on several industry boards, the Jonesburg High Hill Fire Protection District, the Jonesburg Lions Club, and Montgomery City Freemasons. “I love seeing young kids smile and young people like yourselves succeed,” he added. “It’s a passion of mine, and because of my success at work, I can do these things. So, I encourage you to get involved in your local community clubs. It’s rewarding, and I have learned so many valuable lessons from others while being a part of these groups. The busiest, most successful people I know have some kind of community project they give their time and money to because of the joy it gives them.”

Sellenriek challenged each graduate to give $100 per year to the State Tech Foundation. “I know you are going to think, ‘What is my $100 a year gonna matter?’ But if everyone in this graduating class donates, that’s $86,000. If we started this 10 years ago and everyone was to donate each year, this year’s total would be $648,200. The numbers can be staggering and really make a difference. This small donation each year will help ensure that State Tech can keep improving and that more people like yourselves can benefit from this fantastic school.”

Sellenriek alluded to his remarks about a leader not asking others to do what they have not or would not do. Toward that end, he announced a donation of $2,600 to the State Tech Foundation, $100 for each year since he donned the cap and gown.

In closing, Sellenriek reiterated that “It is tough out there” but said he is excited to see what this generation can accomplish to make the world a better place. “Your generation is the most well-informed and technologically advanced ever,” he added. “Now, combine that with the education you received here, and the sky is the limit for you. The world needs you, your country needs you, and your community needs you. There is a lifetime of work to get done, and it starts on Monday. Congratulations, and God Bless!”

State Tech President Dr. Shawn Strong lauded the record-breaking number of graduates and said, “I think I speak for the rest of the faculty, administration, and staff when I say this is one of our favorite events of the year.”

Dr. Strong praised the efforts of faculty and staff in helping prepare these graduates for a successful future, adding that parents played a vital role as well. “You wouldn’t be here today without your parents and family,” Dr. Strong said. “I know they have made sacrifices that we will never fully appreciate to get you to this point. I hope the graduates will take a minute and thank you at some point today.”

He directed graduates to wave to their families in gratitude before continuing his address. “Even with all of your parent’s advice, the support of your friends, and State Tech faculty and staff, this day would not be possible without you taking ownership of your education and making the commitment to get to this point,” Dr. Strong said. “We know you came to the best college in the country to get a hands-on education. Remember that the skills you have acquired here will be valuable in your future pursuits, but it is up to you to continue to refine and develop them. Embrace new challenges and opportunities, and never stop learning. You will look back on your time at State Tech as a defining moment in your life. We are all proud of you and know we have prepared you to meet your next challenge. For today, enjoy the moment; you will soon be a graduate of the best two-year college in the country. Congratulations!”

VP of External Relations Shannon Grus said, “On behalf of the over 14,000 State Tech Alumni, we applaud and congratulate you! In fact, we admire you.”

Earlier, graduates were provided a keychain. “Now, many people would equate this to being a symbol to carry the keys to your success, but that is not the case here,” Grus explained. “Based on our keyless world, this keychain may never carry keys, but that is just fine. You already have the key to your success — you are a State Tech grad! But this keychain does represent you joining a very elite family, the State Tech family.”

State Tech alumni in the audience stood and were recognized. “Now, turn and look at just some of the family you are about to join,” Grus told graduates. Like any family, we do have some expectations.”

First, family supports each other. “We will be here for you, and we hope you will be there for us,” Grus said. “Whether you need career assistance or just advice from an instructor — we will support you! “

Second, State Tech wants alumni to stay informed. “As you well know, things can change rapidly, and staying informed about what is happening at State Tech will only make you a better family member,” said Grus. “So, whether it is through Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok- keep in touch.”

She encouraged graduates to stay involved. “Don’t let graduation be the end of your involvement, but the beginning of a lifetime of involvement,” said Grus, noting that alumni may play in the State Tech golf tournament, serve as an advisory committee member, become a member of the Board of Regents, or help recruit the next State Tech graduates. “No matter how you choose to do it, just stay involved. So again, congratulations and welcome to our successful, high achieving, hardworking, and sometimes a little crazy State Tech family. We are sure you will fit right in!”

Student Government Association (SGA) President Mason Zollman earned this year’s President’s Award for his demonstration of Leadership and Citizenship character and service to the college. Dr. Strong noted that Zollman also served as the Activity Center recreation program assistant and led worship live on campus. “Outside of the classroom, he completed over 80 volunteer hours since the last academic year and even found time to record new State Tech web service. He always has a smiling face and does not know a stranger.”

Regents President John A. Klebba told graduates he was the last thing standing between them and the celebration of this occasion. “Congratulations on behalf of the faculty, staff, and Board of Regents for the hard work, determination, and muster to get you here today,” he said, presenting the 2023 graduates for the first time.


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