All occupations were inspired and taught by teachers.

Alex Hanson

Class of ’10
Chief Budget Analyst for the State of South Dakota

BHSU Alumni Alex Hanson

At age 26, Alex knows the opportunity to work in the South Dakota Governor’s Budget Office is really unique for someone so young but says that his educational experience at BHSU prepared him well to meet the challenges and demands. Alex leads the team that helps build the governor’s budget each fall. His team interacts with every state department and agency, participating in both the budget and legislative processes, lobbying for bills affecting the budget and presenting recommendations to the governor.

Alex says his job is intense and has high turnover, with most Chief Budget Analysts only staying in the position a couple of years. With 2015 marking his fourth year on the job, Alex remains committed to his role.

“We get to make South Dakota a better place to live,” said Alex. “And I’ve had great mentors and leaders to keep me motivated, keep me learning, and help me have fun at work.”

Born and raised in Aberdeen, Alex graduated from BHSU with a degree in professional accountancy and management. Dr. Ken Schallenkamp, professor of business law, and Dr. Don Looney, assistant professor of management, shared their time and real-world business experiences with Alex and encouraged him to consider lots of possibilities.

“As a student, I had access to my professors’ resources, knowledge, and connections enabling me to accomplish some cool things and take on interesting challenges.”

Living in Spearfish, says Alex, is a real “opportunity.”

“Having Spearfish Canyon five minutes away is just unreal!” he said.

As Chief Budget Analyst, Alex says his next big goals are to help the governor attain AAA bond rating for the state and to release the state’s first formal, long-term budget plan.

David Mickelson

Class of '94
President & CEO of Graham Tire Company

BHSU Alumni David Mickelson

David Mickelson, Class of ’94, is President and CEO of the Graham Tire Company, one of the largest independently-owned tire dealerships in the U.S.

David is the first to admit that his decision to leave a successful career in banking to work in automobile services was a surprise, and a risk. His decision to attend Black Hills State University was also surprising and perhaps a bit risky since he was breaking family tradition, but it was also essential to his success. According to David, there had been 96 years of Mickelson family attendees at a state university a little closer to home in Vermillion. But BHSU, says David, was a much better fit for him.

“When I visited my senior year of high school, BHSU was different than other campuses I’d visited,” said David. “I toured campus after holiday break, in the winter with its gorgeous setting, and it felt right for me.”

David played on the Yellow Jacket football team offensive line under Coach Ed Neibauer, whom David says he greatly respected, while pursuing a major in business administration. Academically, David said he’ll never forget his Business Policies class with his advisor, Fred Heidrich.

“He wasn’t known as an easy professor, but he prepared you. You don’t realize until you’ve been in the workforce for many years how much those business classes actually prepare you,” said David.

After graduation, David took a job as a third shift bank operations manager with Norwest Bank in Denver.

“That was a very eye-opening experience for a 22-year-old kid from South Dakota, working in downtown Denver from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m.,” said David.

David then moved with the company to Minneapolis where his team was in charge of managing customer service for 50 of the bank’s largest business customers. Next, David returned to South Dakota to work for First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls where he ultimately ran all bank operations before joining Graham Tire.

When people ask about the differences in the banking and automotive industries, David’s answer is that they’re more alike than we might think.

“Both industries are about relationships and people, how we work with each other, our vendors, and our customers,” said David.

David says his next big goal is to help Graham Tire continue its growth, maintaining over 50 years of the company’s success while advancing opportunities for the future. With his business education from BHSU, it’s a mission for which he’s well-equipped.

“My education and experiences at BHSU prepared me for any workplace environment,” said David.

Jesse Dana

Class of '97
Orthodontist at Meyer & Dana Orthodontics

BHSU Alumni Dr. Jesse Dana

Dr. Jesse Dana, Class of ’97, and his team at Meyer & Dana Orthodontics in Spearfish ensure dental patients receive the highest-quality care.

“It’s important to me to be positive and encouraging to our team and our patients, to always make sure we treat our patients like family here,” said Jesse.

Jesse grew up in Spearfish and planned to leave town when attending college. But Mike Olson, then head basketball coach at BHSU, had other plans.

“I was able to play basketball at BHSU and ended up with a great education too,” said Jesse. “Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had were at BHSU.”

After majoring in biology at BHSU, Jesse said he felt very prepared attending graduate school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he graduated with honors at the top of his class. Jesse credits Dr. Charlie Lamb, professor of biology, and Dr. Pete deLannoy, associate professor of chemistry, for their help preparing him for the rigors of orthodontic residency.

“Dr. Lamb was helpful in making sure I had everything I needed to go on to dental school and Dr. deLannoy was a hands-on chemistry teacher helping us to understand concepts,” said Jesse.

Outside the classroom, Jesse says his best memories at BHSU include meeting his wife, Traci, Class of ’98, and making it to the final eight of the NAIA Division II national basketball tournament his senior year.

Jesse attributes his success to strong support from his family and his faith. Every morning, he leads his orthodontics staff in a prayer to start the day centered on a positive team atmosphere and quality patient care.

“I’m now able to do what I do and am very blessed to be in this profession,” said Jesse. “And it all started at Black Hills State.”

Julieanne Morse

Class of '14
2nd Lieutenant in the South Dakota National Guard

Julieanne Morse


Julieanne Morse, 2nd Lieutenant in the South Dakota National Guard, deployed to Afghanistan during her third year of college at BHSU. That experience, combined with her education, opened her eyes to many possible career paths. She’s now focused on serving at the national level – perhaps even at the Pentagon.

In 2012 Julieanne told her family and friends she received her orders to serve overseas.  She also shared the information with her mentor and photography professor at BHSU, Steve Babbitt.  Steve suggested she take self-portraits while preparing for deployment to build a portfolio for a senior-level class in Contemporary Issues.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster when you realize you’re going to another country that’s war-torn.  You never know what you’re going to come out of there like,” said Julieanne.

She heard from her professor throughout her time overseas and he encouraged her to continue capturing images for the portfolio. 

“I was a photojournalist overseas, that was my job,” said Julieanne.  “I took pictures on mission, I took pictures off mission. I was always taking pictures!”

Julieanne says she remembers using photography to relax during deployment, capturing time-lapse and long-exposure photographs.  Looking back on those photos now, Julieanne says she always sees something new.

“After I returned to the states, I remember Steve looking at the photo of me and my buddy in the bunker.  I explained that we were taking cover from indirect fire, that the base was getting hit at that time,” she said.  “It was initially very difficult to look at the images, but it definitely helped me with re-integrating and getting back to normal life in the states.”

Julieanne Morse

In both preparing for deployment and re-integrating, Julieanne says faculty, staff and fellow military students at BHSU supported and helped her with student loan paperwork, registering for classes, and navigating the re-entry process. 

With her mass communication degree from BHSU, Julieanne is able to pursue the rank of captain in the National Guard. 

“My next big goal is serving at the national level in the military, for the National Guard Bureau or at the Pentagon,” said Julieanne.  “That’s where I’m aiming for next.”  

Rylan Sprague

Class of '12
Northern Hills District Botanist - Black Hills National Forest

Rylan Sprague works as the Northern Hills District Botanist for the Black Hills National Forest.

With a hand lens magnifier, canteen and hiking boots, Rylan Sprague is ready for his work day as a Northern Hills District Botanist with the Black Hills National Forest.

“I’m honored to manage all plant resources in the Northern Hills,” said Rylan. “We conduct field work, hike and survey, protect sensitive species, document GPS points, and restore and enhance habitats.”

A member of the Cheyenne-River Sioux Tribe, Rylan’s connection with the Black Hills is both physical and spiritual.

“Tribes would come here in the early spring and summer to collect plants that can’t be found in the surrounding prairie including sages, berries, and turnips,” said Rylan. “Being able to work in the Black Hills hiking all day is enjoyable, and it’s spiritual too. This experience has brought me closer to the hills.”

Initially working with the U.S. Forest Service as a seasonal hydrology technician, Rylan mapped springs, streams and wetlands. When the full-time botanist position opened up, Rylan was hired through the Student Career Experience Pathways (SCEP) partnership between BHSU and the Forest Service, working closely with Dr. Mark Gabel, Herbarium curator and professor emeritus, and Dr. Benjamin van Ee, instructor of biology.

Rylan Sprague BHSU alumni from the class of 2012. Currently employed as as the Northern Hills District Botanist for the Black Hills National Forest.

“Dr. Gabel has been a great resource for anything concerning plants and Dr. van Ee was a mentor for me. He really made botany exciting,” said Rylan.

Rylan also still keeps in contact with his 6th grade teacher, Brett Swanson; one of many teachers whom Rylan says treated him like full person, rather than just a student in a single subject.

Rylan returns to BHSU often to visit the Herbarium, a great resource to use for plant identification or to deposit plant collections, or to attend classes as part of the master’s of sustainability program.

“If I ever have a question on an ID between species, I come to the Herbarium and find an example of both and see the distinguishing features,” said Rylan. “I also use the Science Lab on campus for DNA extraction and amplification.”


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