Young Alum of the Month: Mitchel Steffes

Mitchel Steffes
Title and Company: 
Safety Manager II, Wanzek Construction, Inc.
Manning, IA
Major and Graduation Date: 
BS, Industrial Technology (Occupational Safety), Minor: Engineering Studies - 2013
Major Job/Position Responsibilities: 

At Wanzek Construction, it is my responsibility to take a systematic and proactive approach in all aspects of the construction processes.  Wherever people run the risk of personal injury or illness, they are likely to find safety managers at work.  Safety managers are people who use a wide variety of management, engineering and scientific skills to prevent human injury and related losses.

At Wanzek Construction, safety is the cornerstone of our company’s culture.  We are committed to continuous improvement in safety with the goal of zero injuries.  Our commitment includes an active process to instill safety values in each employee and to ensure safe behavior is instinctive and automatic.  Safety is not a side conversation, but a part of how we do business.  It is as natural as putting on a seatbelt.  Effective communication is a trademark of safety success.

What you like most about your job/position: 

Working at Wanzek is not your average nine to five office job.  Having the opportunity to climb 100 meters to the top of a wind generator turbine and overseeing the beautiful lands of this country has its perks.  That is not the only exciting benefit of my job.  I have a chance to see the world and experience different cultures and climates with my “Wanzek Family,” or if I may, my family away from home.  Even though Wanzek is a large company, it still has the feeling of a small company, which you learn to cherish.

Wanzek was founded in 1971 on heavy/civil and concrete projects and has become known as a reputable contractor in the power, renewable energy, oil &gas, heavy/civil and industrial agriculture energy sectors with growing service lines including crane services, renewable energy services and oil field services. Having completed projects in 60% of the states across the U.S. and expanded into North America, Wanzek remains focused on our mission to be a leading construction company through our people, safety culture, experience and dedicated teams.

Wanzek has installed nearly 7,000 MW for some of the most well-known names in renewable energy development, amounting to over 75 projects and over 3,600 turbines. We’ve grown up in the industry, erecting our first turbines in 2001.  Since then, Wanzek has erected the latest in turbine technology including GE, Gamesa, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Suzlon and Vestas.  Not only does Wanzek construct wind farms, our dedicated teams are capable of ensuring their lifespan with oil change, blade replacement and gearbox services as well as routine maintenance to maintain efficiency.

What advice would you give to current students: 

My first piece of advice is that you're better off learning how to speak and write clearly and concisely than you are learning more through an informal extra class.  I would suggest taking a public speaking class to help broaden and improve those skills.  Learning how to think critically, apply sound logic and develop solid conclusions are the most valuable skills of all.

My second piece of advice is do not be afraid of failure. It is a part of life, and it can make you stronger and can influence your future path.

My final piece of advice is that you should find good mentors all along your way.

Iowa State University will provide you with diverse skills that will serve you well in so many careers.  In addition to perseverance and strategic planning, you will train in teamwork, public speaking, writing and a form of teaching.  Ask your professor or adviser to help connect you with key personnel in your industry and department alumni, who will surely be happy to tell you how they chose and pursued their unique career paths.  Don’t be shy to apply for internships that will give you a chance to experience something you will not regret.

Favorite ISU class:
TSM 397 – Internship/TSM 415/416 – Senior Capstone Project

My internship gave me a wonderful opportunity and opened my eyes to the safety profession in addition to securing a job with my current company, Wanzek Construction.  I suggest that you take the time to attend the career fairs ISU offers to secure your dream job, just as I did.  I never held much of a view on workplace safety and health before I began college, declared safety as my major and began my internship at Wanzek.  The extent of my knowledge was a vague awareness that the government enforced regulations and that companies hired safety professionals to comply with those regulations.

While in college, I learned many things that affected my views about workplace safety.  The most pertinent is the apparent disconnect between the perceived will of safety advocates and the actual goodwill that exists.  As I began my safety classes, I quickly found that many companies and employees see safety in a negative light and that changing a company’s safety culture is usually a long and arduous process.  From my professors’ experiences, as well as from my own discernment and understanding of peoples’ motivation, it is necessary to build and maintain a meaningful relationship between members at all levels within an organization to see true success in changing the way safety is viewed.  It seems like a daunting task to accomplish, but if you can build relationships with others based on genuine goodwill, then their motivation will come internally as well as externally, which is the only way people will choose to invest in a safety culture.  As a result of my education and experience, I hold a safety professional’s job in high regard, as it involves much more dedication and investment than I had imagined.