Success STEMS from Lifelong Learning

Gary Johansen has always enjoyed solving problems. It’s one of the reasons he pursued an engineering career and has been successful in the field for almost four decades.

Now he’s solving financial hardships for future engineers. Gary established two $2,500 scholarships at his alma matter for male and female students pursuing STEM careers at South Suburban College.

“I would not have the life I have without South Suburban College and I wanted to provide the same opportunity to others,” said Gary. “I understand the financial burden that students face in higher education. I wanted to step in and find a way to help.”

Gary’s educational journey to a successful career started in the early 1980s. He grew up in Lansing, IL, and attended TF South High School before starting at SSC. There he would balance taking 7 a.m. classes, then change clothes quickly for his job working at a small auto mechanic shop just west of the college. “I grew up in a single parent family and didn’t have a lot of money to go to college. Being able to live at home, work, and go to my community college was the key to affording an engineering education.”

Gary cultivated his analytical mind through math, science and philosophy classes at SSC. He described it as a rewarding grind because he wanted to discover a career that would truly enhance his life. He credits community college for preparing him well for what was ahead – “They’re one of the best kept secrets in education. You can learn and grow so much in those early years especially with smaller class sizes and teachers who truly care about you. The professors always had office hours and time dedicated to us.”

Gary wants to do more than give back through scholarship. His advice to his current and future scholars is to embrace their pathway with confidence in themselves. “Don’t let doubt creep into your mind, and believe you can do whatever you set your mind to, because it’s true” said Gary, who was recently named Vice President of Engineering – Power Systems Business at Cummins.

From community college student to overseeing an engineering and technology division of 1,700 people, Gary remains humble in his perspective. He said a combination of collaboration, being clear, and allowing people to be creative and innovative is the key.

“Go into any experience with a positive attitude and the knowledge that you can do the job if you are willing to be a great team player. Finally, have the humility to accept advice, and the gratitude that you are in this position.”

South Suburban College and Gary’s scholarship recipients are grateful for his generosity.