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SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Michael Gerkensmeyer was hired by Logistics Insight Corporation in the week leading up to Oregon Tech's graduation ceremony June 12.When Michael Gerkensmeyer was handed his diploma this month at Oregon Tech in Wilsonville, it marked a life-changing milestone. Gerkensmeyer was graduating magna cum laude with a degree in operations management, for starters, making him the first member of his immediate family to graduate with a college degree.

His degree included an emphasis in production and processes efficiencies, called Lean Six Sigma, an achievement that helped him to land a job with Logistics Insight Corporation, where he will work as a third-party process consultant for Boeing.

Gerkensmeyer’s road to Oregon was a long one with many stops along the way. Gerkensmeyer, 33, grew up in Arnold, Calif., with his parents and three older brothers. While he always excelled in school, he had never really considered attending a four-year college, but after earning an associate’s degree in hotel hospitality at Butte College in Chico, Calif., he decided to move to Oregon in 2006, where he worked in the hotel industry as a manager for the next five years. While he says he enjoyed the work he found himself wanting a new challenge, enrolling in Clackamas Community College and in 2013 transferring to Oregon Tech to explore the operations side of retail.

“I chose to do a business degree, more from the operations standpoint, and started (at Oregon Tech) in 2013,” he says. “At that point I knew I wanted to pursue a business degree, but when I came across the operations aspect is when I was sold.”

For the past four years Gerkensmeyer strove toward graduation while working full-time as a manager of a local Red Wing shoe store. He says working 40 hours per week on top of a full workload at school was difficult, requiring sacrifices such as sleep and free time. And while he says his achievements and new process-oriented position with Logistics Insight Corportation have made all the hard work worth it, that doesn’t mean Gerkensmyer’s own process wasn’t a challenging one.

“It was kind of a huge workload, that just took an immense amount of time and lack of sleep,” Gerkensmeyer says. “It’s not easy, and it took me longer than I would have hoped, but I have to say all the time and effort I put into it is well worth it.”

While Gerkensmeyer’s story is inspiring, it isn’t exactly unique. According to analysis from the National Center for Education Statistics, students over the age of 25 accounted for more than 40 percent of college enrollment growth from 2000 to 2011, and students are working an average of 30 hours a week. About 25 percent of full-time college students, meanwhile, simultaneously work full-time, like Gerkensmyer did.

When you factor in rising tuition costs — which are increasing by an average of 7 percent every year (according to a recent Georgetown study) and top $18,000 on average, including room and board for in-state students — completing college is becoming more and more difficult. PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL GOLOSKI - Michael Gerkensmeyer graduated from Oregon Tech June 12.

Even more challenging, however, is finding employment after graduation. According to a 2014 CareerBuilder study, 47 percent of college-educated workers said their first job was outside their field. Thirty-one percent of college graduates age 35 or older, meanwhile, said they’ve never been employed within their degree field.

Gerkensmeyer says he was slightly worried he’d become one of those statistics, as he wasn’t hired until the week leading up to graduation. He spent a good portion of his senior year working with Oregon Tech’s career services office, doing everything he could think of to make himself a desirable candidate. From updating his resume to creating profiles on sites like LinkedIn and CareerBuilder, he says the key for him was persistence more than anything else.

“I think it’s always about staying positive and not giving up,” he says. “I applied to quite a few different spots — I interviewed multiple times. You get down sometimes when you don’t get through the whole process or you don’t get a call back, but you can’t give up. I worked my tail off to get where I am, I didn’t give up, and I really said it’s going to happen, through frustration and all. Eventually it will come to fruition, and I think timing was everything.”

Oregon Tech is somewhat unique from other universities in that its graduates typically fare favorably in the working world post-graduation. Eighty-eight percent of Oregon Tech grads are employed within six months of graduation, with an average starting salary of about $54,000 per year. The university prides itself on building relationships with local tech companies, and provides many programs that allow students to intern and work alongside respected companies such as Intel and in Gerkensmeyer’s case, Boeing.

Gerkensmeyer earned his green belt during his senior year, meaning he’s worked on a process project with a company to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. He worked with Rodda Paint, analyzing their process of filling 5-gallon cans of paint. He says he wants to earn the black belt certification in the coming years, awarded after running a process project, something his new position might allow in the future. His job will be working as a quality supervisor, where Gerkensmeyer will oversee approximately eight employees.

“This is a quality supervisor position, and so it’s a lot of documentation, reporting — so in essence process mapping, supply chain flow,” he says. “Auditing, making sure we have

the correct components in place, but also the correct processes.”

Long-term, Gerkensmeyer has aspirations of earning a master’s degree in global supply chain management, likely at Portland State University, and would like to own his own business one day. He’ll be working out of Portland for the time being, but says he isn’t sure where his career will take him. Considering how frightening the post-college job search can be, Gerkensmeyer is happy to be working in a field he’s passionate about, proud of what he’s accomplished thus far and determined to continue his professional growth.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Michael Gerkensmeyer moved to Oregon in 2006 after growing up in Northern California.

“I think to stay in this area and have an opportunity — I’m very, very excited. But I also realize the more I grow with this opportunity — there might be more to grow in other areas,” he says. “I realized this was my passion — to continuously improve the current state of something to get to a desired state. Focusing on your passion and focusing on what really drives you is so important. This is not the end of my road — it’s just the start of a new road altogether.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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