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This article continues a series profiling winners of the 2013 Outstanding Alumni Awards, which were presented last week at the annual American Association of Community Colleges convention.
There’s no skirting hard work if you want to succeed.
“You have to work hard and put in the time to get the job done,” said retired U.S. Navy Captain Lee Gurke when asked how he achieved his academic and professional goals.
Since leaving the military, Gurke has focused on issues related to naval and missile defense programs in the Washington, D.C., government operations office of Boeing Co. Previously, he served as president of CAE Electronics Inc. (now L-3 Marine & Power Systems), the U.S. subsidiary of CAE of Canada. These positions are illustrative of a life dedicated to serving the nation that began years earlier in a small town.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Gurke was raised in a community where a strong work ethic was expected and highly valued. He chose to attend Bismarck State College (BSC) because “it was good opportunity to stay in the community at a reasonable cost.”
His strong work ethic would serve him well in his academic pursuits, as well as in his illustrious career as a naval officer.
Life after basketball
As a student at BSC, Gurke excelled in math and physics. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Initially, Gurke attended the college on an athletic scholarship. After an ankle injury during his first semester prevented him from playing basketball, he began to take his studies more seriously. Freed from practicing three hours a day, Gurke focused on his studies and excelled in his courses.
His excellent academic performance did not go unnoticed by his instructors. The chairs of the math and physics departments asked him to tutor his fellow students in these subjects. Gurke did so for three semesters.
“I was able to turn a light on for someone and help him or her conquer a fear of the subject matter,” Gurke said.
Moving up rank
After BSC, Gurke enlisted in the Navy where he was initially trained as an electronics technician. After completing his training, he had an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve onboard the U.S.S Gurke, a destroyer named for his uncle, Henry Gurke, who received the Medal of Honor in World War II.
While serving in the Navy, Gurke continued his education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He earned a baccalaureate in engineering physics from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California, and a master’s degree equivalent in nuclear engineering from the U.S. Navy Nuclear Propulsion School.
During his military career, Gurke served in numerous capacities, including chief engineer of the nuclear powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, which is the world’s largest integrated nuclear reactor complex. He was also commanding officer of the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Buchanan and of the Aegis cruiser U.S.S. Normandy. Only about 20 percent of naval officers ever command one ship, let alone two U.S. Navy warships, which is a testament to Gurke’s success.
He ended his Navy career as deputy commander and chief of staff for the commander of the Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, where he was responsible for a fleet of 130 warships and more than 50,000 personnel.
Serving his alma mater
Gurke continues to serve with honor through his ongoing support of BSC and active involvement in the community. He has provided guidance and consulting as the college developed the curriculum and then established the only online nuclear power technology program in the nation.
Gurke was also instrumental in securing nearly $1 million in federal funding from the U.S Department of Defense for BSC to accommodate military students online, particularly Navy students in the college’s energy programs. BSC offers courses tailored to Navy training objectives in a distance learning environment for conventional and nuclear power-related energy courses for sailors serving in a variety of capacities, especially aboard ships.
For Gurke, the link between higher education and the military was always apparent.
“In the military, [personnel] learn skills that are applicable to advanced education,” he said. “The skills that I learned in the Navy prepared me for college coursework.”
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