Industrial Technology Offers Second Chance For Success

Industrial Technology Offers Second Chance For Success

Five years ago Gary High considered himself computer illiterate, now he’s operating robots and analyzing plastics using complex computer systems.

At 51 years old, he’s considered a “nontraditional” student. High has always worked in jobs that required mechanical knowledge, so pursuing an industrial technology degree made sense. High graduated in May.

“I dropped out of high school in 10th grade and I went from not being able
to answer an email to graduating with
a bachelor’s degree,” High says.

His wife, Dawn High (’01 dietetics), encouraged him to go to college. She was a nontraditional student at Iowa State and understood the challenges and the rewards.

“Gary is motivated,” Dawn says. “When he told me he wanted to go back to school, I said, ‘Let’s figure out how to make it happen.’”

In order to enroll in classes Gary had to check on his GED tests, which he took 30 years earlier while serving in the Navy. When he learned he had passed, he signed up for two courses at Ellsworth Community College. He tried it, liked it and graduated with the first associate degree in engineering from Ellsworth.

“It seemed every time I turned around I was given new opportunities,” Gary says.

Doors continued to open when he came to Iowa State. He started in aerodynamics, but his adviser told him to stick with what he knew. He knew mechanical systems.

His mechanical experience began in 1979 as a boiler technician and fire room supervisor in the Navy. After six years he was honorably discharged and awarded the Sea Service Ribbon and the Humanitarian Service Medal, which is awarded for meritorious participation in military acts or operations of a humanitarian nature. He went on to work as an injection mold operator, truck driver, bulldozer operator and started a trucking company.

David Grewell, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, says Gary is an inspiration to other students. The first thing Grewell noticed is that Gary works with his younger peers as a team player. He says that was evident when Gary joined the robotics team, which took third place in the Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering competition in 2011.

“He was like a kid on the robotics team, but at the same time he provided the down-to-earth seriousness that kept the group focused,” Grewell says.

“The robotic team caught my interest because it was a diverse group of young students with the enthusiasm to excel at applied technology,” Gary says. “I found the experience satisfying and I made friendships that will last a lifetime.”

That teamwork was also evident in a multi-disciplinary lean management project combining students from Jacqulyn Baughman’s technology systems management course and David Cantor’s supply chain management class. The students evaluated the supply room at the Cardiovascular Unit at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. The team’s goal was to improve inventory management and reduce costs.

“It’s all about efficiency,” Gary says. “In this class we tried to eliminate excess inventory because that translates into extra costs.”

Baughman, a lecturer in agricultural and biosystems engineering, says Gary is a leader in many ways and readily shares his knowledge and experience with other students.

“He knows when to lead, but he knows when to step back because the other students need that experience,” Baughman says.

Grewell says Gary’s story is one he’ll never forget.

“He drives from Iowa Falls every day and he is the one student who is in class early,” Grewell says. “Gary is a great success story.”

Gary’s leadership and knowledge
were helpful when Grewell took a group of students to Taiwan for his International Industrial Academic Leadership Experience class. Gary remembers Taiwan from his years in the Navy.

“I was there 30 years ago and it wasn’t developed at all. Today, Taiwan is having an industrial boom,” Gary says.

While he was in Taiwan he talked to his dad using the web conferencing tool Skype. Gary’s dad had just been diagnosed with cancer, so it was important to stay in touch.

“I was computer illiterate when I started college, but my dad was still in the crank phone era and it was amazing for him,” Gary says.

His father passed away in December, but Gary says one of the last things his dad told him was how proud he was of his achievements.