Vanderboom Gift Empowers Student Success at Mines

When Steve Vanderboom received his final grades after his first semester at South Dakota Mines in 1970, let’s just say his GPA had never started with that number.

“My experience as a freshman was a challenging one,” Steve recalls. “I felt at risk in some of my classes, particularly calculus. I read and studied, read and studied, and still just couldn’t get the concept. And I couldn’t find a friend who could help me.”

He remembers being so frustrated one evening that he threw his book against the wall. It didn’t help that he was daunted by the reality that many of his classmates wouldn’t make it past their first year.

Steve did make it through calculus and eventually found his stride at Mines, thoroughly enjoying his time with friends, civil engineering professors, and athletics, not to mention the Black Hills. He then went on to found Pace Analytical in Minneapolis in 1978, serving as CEO for 41 years. By 2021, Pace was the largest privately held environmental and pharmaceutical testing business in the nation.

Steve received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Mines in 2021, but his experiences in his first year are not lost on him. So, when Steve and his wife, Julie, both from Platte, SD, started considering how they could give back to South Dakota Mines, the area of student success resonated.

“The Office of Student Success sounds like something I would have liked to have in college. The value of this space to students, in particular to freshmen who are in a new environment and have new challenges, is that they can find that support.”

Steve and Julie donated $1 million to expand and renovate the Vanderboom Office of Student Success, previously the Student Success Center, which encompasses professional advising services, tutoring services, and the testing center for students with academic accommodations. The previous area in the Surbeck Center had limited space for students to gather and offered very minimal office space for staff. The new office in the Devereaux Library is spacious and welcoming, adding collaboration and study spaces for students, staff offices and conference rooms, and modern yet comfortable furniture that meets students’ needs.

I love this space,” said Steve. “Hats off to the architect and designer. It’s open and comfortable and the buzz is fantastic. The school has created a space that, if I’m a student, I want to be here.”

According to Jordan Carda, principal architect with CO-OP Architecture in Rapid City who supported the library renovation, our built environment has a direct impact on how we learn.

“If we have a sense of comfortability, security, and purpose, it’s a welcoming place we’ll want to stay,” he said, adding that the floorplan was laid out in an order to allow students to have access to a variety of group spaces and all the amenities they need. 

Lisa Carlson, associate vice president of student success, said she gets a much different feeling walking into her new office space. “There is so much more interaction between students. It’s helping to change the culture on campus. I think students really feel like they have a place that’s theirs, and that’s really important for retention.”

Jake Martinelli, a chemical engineering major and tutor for the Office of Student Success, said that as a tutor, the new space has added huge benefits to the way he works.

“Having more space allows us to spread out from other groups and focus on the students that come for help,” he said. “It’s also especially helpful when tutoring multiple students in the same class. It’s also nice to have plenty of whiteboards.”

Chris Roman, advisor, said the physical change of space has really supported collaboration between staff in the Office of Student Success as well as across other areas, such as the Office of Career Services and the SD First program.

“The opportunity to collaborate with the entirety of our departments has never been easier,” said Chris. “Not only has supporting each other become much more organic, the ease of access for students is very open. Additionally, for students to get the answers and connections they need, they simply need to take a walk down our hallway where our doors are open and waiting to provide the help they need.”

Steve didn’t have that same support when he was a student, but his gift is making it an easier and more comfortable process for current and future Hardrockers to seek that help when they need it.

“One of the things I’ve worked toward is dispelling the myth that smart students don’t need to ask for help,” said Lisa. “Just because you encounter some barriers along the way, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to succeed. This space is really helping us change that culture.

And that can only elevate the reputation of Mines, which Steve said is already rock solid across the industry.

“Wherever I go, when I say where I went to school, almost without exception they know the school because industrial companies like to recruit here,” he said. “That foundation of a strong reputation around the country is something I would like to see continue and grow.”

The Vanderboom Office of Student Success was dedicated on Sept. 23. Thank you to Julie and Steve for their transformational gift to students and staff at South Dakota Mines.