Dr. Holly Gruhlke has worked hard her whole life.
Growing up on a remote Montana farm, Gruhlke shouldered plenty of responsibility throughout her childhood, nurturing a lifelong passion for learning that blossomed into a decorated career.
"I had great teachers. All my life. My first great teacher was my sister. She was older than me and we were very close ... she went to kindergarten before me, and she'd come back and teach me everything she'd learned that day. So I went to kindergarten knowing how to read already," Gruhlke said. "I always wanted to play the teacher, I was always the student when we were playing, so I think it's something I've held on to for a long time."
At 32 years old, Gruhlke is the chair of Dickinson State University's newly named School of Business and Entrepreneurship. She is a first-generation college graduate and is marking her tenth year working at DSU, the same school from which she earned her bachelor's degree. Gruhlke now works alongside the very same teachers by whom she was taught.
"I got to college and I met some phenomenal business faculty who still work here," Gruhlke said. "It's surreal to think I was sitting in their class and now I'm working alongside them."
Her enthusiasm for teaching is infectious. Her eyes light up when she talks about going to her class.
"This is what I live for, to interact with the students," she said. "And they're so fun!"
Her genuine passion and skill for teaching has not gone unnoticed-Gruhlke has been honored multiple times this winter, first being named in Prairie Business Magazine's annual 40 Under 40 list.
"Prairie Business, which is a premiere business magazine that focuses on industry within this area, South Dakota and Minnesota ... they accept nominations for individuals under the age of 40 and then they select individuals," Gruhlke said. "They had over 100 submitted this year and they selected me. I was blindsided!"
Gruhlke has also been nominated by her peers and entered into the Leadership Excellence and Development (LEAD) awards' winner's circle, a prestigious honor that would see her ranked alongside leaders from across the nation.
"To be nominated was huge, and to be selected-I never thought in a million years I'd be selected to go," Gruhlke said. "That's a huge deal, to get selected for the winner's circle ... it's a small group, and I have to go interview."
Gruhlke chased her dreams relentlessly, yet said she could not have imagined reaching the point she's at now.
"I never imagined I would be 32-years-old, receiving that award (40 under 40), being promoted to the chair of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship. It's going phenomenally, I really love it," she said. "Everyone's working so hard ... we're all doing what we're supposed to be doing."
Education is paramount to Gruhlke, who said she would have gotten nowhere without it.
"Without my education and without Dickinson State starting my education, I would not be in this position living my dream," She said. "Education is such a powerful thing, it can help people change their economic situation if you're willing to work and put yourself out there. As Midwesterners, we're used to working hard. That's what we do. It's why people like to hire people from this area."
Gruhlke attributes much of the enthusiasm and inexhaustible drive she has for her work to her upbringing.
"I've always, even when I was little, been thrust into entrepreneurial-type activities," she said. "When I was 12-years-old I had a little herd of cows ... being a farm kid, it's all about business."
Gruhlke believes in the value of hard work and the agrarian lifestyle providing important life lessons.
"The farming/ranching lifestyle teaches you to work hard," Gruhlke said. "People are willing to bend over backwards to make things work. We thrive in the cold, we keep working in the high heat, we keep moving forward. That's the farmer's mentality."