Home Tribute Thank you for who you are and all that you do – A Tribute to Steve Gunderson
Thank you for who you are and all that you do – A Tribute to Steve Gunderson

Thank you for who you are and all that you do – A Tribute to Steve Gunderson


Sector Leaders Pay Tribute to Steve Gunderson

Author Shannon Alder once said: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

There is no doubt that Steve Gunderson, the former state legislator and U.S. Congressman who went on to lead the Career Education Colleges and Universities, has left his legacy on the career college sector. But he has also made an impact on those who work in that sector, and they have plenty of stories to tell as Steve begins his retirement.

So, in no particular order, here are just some of their tributes and stories of gratitude, respect, honor and praise:

Steve’s commitment and passion for the sector were evident from the very start. We were lucky enough to have him visit our schools early on and enjoy a traditional walleye Minnesota/Wisconsin kind of dinner, complete with some good old Wisconsin beer and many shared “Lutheranisms!” While we questioned Steve about why he would be joining the sector at what seemed at the moment to be the worst possible time, he was quick with his answer. He wanted to be able to take credit when the sector realized its turnaround and return to good graces. Knowing Steve’s humble nature, he would surely only have shared in the successes instead of taking credit for them. And while the number of students served and career-ready graduates never returned to the “glory days,” the way our sector became laser-focused on student outcomes can be attributed to Steve and his push for doing what was right, ALL of the time. Steve – thank YOU for who YOU are and for all that you DO (did) to make a difference on behalf of the students we are so very honored to serve.
–Jeanne Herrmann, CEO, Broadview Education Consortium, Broadview University, the Institute of Production and Recording and the Minnesota School of Cosmetology

Everyone from the Lincoln Tech family of schools wants to thank Steve Gunderson for his leadership, commitment, energy, passion and determination for career education. Without a doubt, we and our industry are in a better place today and feel more confident about the future as a result of all of Steve’s good work.

For eight years, Steve has boldly and proudly defended all of us. He firmly believes in our missions and knows firsthand that our No. 1 goal is to help our students succeed. He shared our stories of changing lives with everyone. He relentlessly spoke to our enemies. He wrote articles to clarify or refute negative articles. He was always available to speak with our students or visit campuses. His commitment to our sector never wavered, and I could not think of anyone else who has moved the conversation forward more than Steve.

Steve, we will miss you greatly, but we wish you great happiness as you embark on your next adventure. THANK YOU for being you! All the best from your friends at Lincoln Tech.
–Scott M. Shaw, CEO and President, Lincoln Educational Services


In the 40 plus years that we have been a member of CECU and its predecessor acronyms, I can think of no leader who has cared more for our students, our college and our purpose than you. Thank you for your unwavering commitment and love.
–Mike Perry, CEO, San Joaquin Valley College & Carrington College

Leadership InstituteAfter Steve was hired, I had the pleasure of being the first board chair he worked with at what was then APSCU. I remember my fellow board members saying how noticeable Steve’s passion for our sector’s mission was during the job interview process. As we began to work together that first year it was clear Steve’s commitment to what we do for a living was genuine and real. He “got what we did” and because he believed in our mission, it was easy for him to represent us. For Steve, this wasn’t a job where he simply “role-played” his position. He bought-in and that made all the difference. It can get tough being the lead man for CECU. There are plenty of people who want to hurt you, damage your reputation and work to put your members out of business. Steve knew that from the start and never wavered in his fight to represent the sector. In the end, that will be what stands out about his legacy…
–David J. Pauldine

In my 50 years of interviewing and hiring people, I can honestly say Steve Gunderson was the most qualified person for any position with which I have been involved. I remember asking the full board why we were taking the time to interview the other finalists since Steve was so obviously and uniquely qualified and perfect for the role he assumed. There was a unanimous agreement, and his tenure has been even more outstanding than any of us thought possible. Thank you, Steve, for leading, from the front, in a brutal war. I hate to think about where our sector would be without your leadership. THANK YOU and enjoy the retirement you so rightfully deserve.
–James D. (Jim) Hutton, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Career Quest Learning Centers

I joined the sector in October of 2014 as the new executive director of PAPSA. I met Steve literally on my second day on the job. We had a meeting of Pennsylvania schools in Philadelphia and he made the trip from Washington, D.C. to attend that early October 2014 meeting. It was my first chance to meet many of the school officials, and Steve’s presence at the meeting made it so much easier for me. He first earned my respect that day and has had it ever since. Steve has led the sector through thick and thin. He has helped our schools weather the turbulent storms of Obama-era regulations and the subsequent market contractions and school closures that occurred through those times. In recent years, he helped work to correct some of those rules and regulations, and now he has led by recognizing the partisan currents ahead for the sector and has assembled a more bipartisan CECU Board and staff to help face future challenges after he retires. Thank you, Steve, for your many years of service to one of the most important sectors of America’s economy.
–Aaron Shenck, Executive Director, PAPSA

Steve GundersonI met Steve Gunderson shortly after he became CECU’s CEO. We were not members of our national industry association back then simply because we didn’t believe CECU represented career colleges which focused on … well … career training.

Steve changed CECU’s narrative in short order and our industry association once again started representing career colleges that trained hundreds of thousands of students for high demand careers. We rejoined CECU because of Steve.

Steve united our sector and he created one voice for the entire sector. During his tenure, Steve developed a disciplined, thoughtful and evidence-based approach in educating legislators, journalists and the general public. Steve understood our story in great detail and he represented all of us with incredible passion, tireless positive energy, class and professionalism.

Steve, I, for one, will miss you and will always remember you with tremendous gratitude and appreciation. I am truly forever grateful for all you’ve done for all of us and our sector.

Godspeed, Steve!
–Fardad Fateri, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, International Education Corporation

Over the years of your tenure at CECU, your colleagues have observed, listened and learned much from your wise counsel. You never advocated taking short cuts over a long-term choice that would eventually lead to a higher quality outcome. Your analytical ability enabled you to anticipate and identify problems, and consequently, we were able to head them off before they became severe. Your grassroots rallies with students and veterans are a part of your signature and a great example of this.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have served with you at CECU know full well the many contributions that you have made to the profession and also to your colleagues.

If they are lucky, in life a person tends to meet a few people who really stand out and who make a difference to everyone they touch. Steve, you are such an individual, for you have made a difference at CECU, and more importantly to our many member institutions and their students. Many of us consider you one of the principal ARCHITECTS of the CECU brand. Without your strong influence, CECU as we know it today, might never have been achieved. All of us hope that you will long remember your tenure with CECU and feel pride in the IMPACT you have had as well as the IMPRINT you have left on this organization.

I told everyone at your goodbye party that I was special because I had been to your home and Ethan had cooked an unforgettable meal, while you made an amazing dessert and I brought a $150 bottle of wine that left you both speechless. I will cherish those moments forever.

For all the reasons mentioned (and many more not mentioned), I will miss your steady hand, competent leadership and professionalism. You have earned your stripes and I wish you a wonderful and fun-filled retirement. I hope that you will stay in touch with me and your many friends.
–Florence Tate

Steve GundersonThank you, Steve Gunderson! I do not think that folks understand what a remarkable job Steve has done to protect students who have the choice to go to a private career institution. Always optimistic, Steve demonstrated exceptional leadership that kept our organization together as the only national voice for our students. Steve has confronted powerful critics who have made it their careers to destroy this choice. Steve has marshalled the schools, the employers and the students to protect veteran rights, to remove harmful regulations and prevent unfair legislation. Steve has kept together an organization whose diverse membership seemed to be under continued threats from serious enemies. Steve’s passion, commitment, thoughtfulness and steadfast dedication to our students will not be forgotten. Bon voyage Steve!
–Dr. Art Keiser, Chancellor, Keiser University

Steve, you have a gift very few have – you’re a leader, a great orator, a gifted writer and probably the earliest riser I know. It is an honor and privilege to know you and to be on a board whose CEO was you.

There was so much I want to say, but I’m limited at this time. Therefore, I’ve decided to take some excerpts from memos that you have sent your board:

  1. “Thanks for all you do to provide education to those seeking the skills that will create a career.”
  2. “Sometimes it is easy knowing what to do. Sometimes it is just as hard to figure it all out.”
  3. “Our success depends on your engagement, and hopefully, your success depends on CECU’s leadership.”
  4. “If you have read this far, thanks! It may be a long memo, but it’s only long because a lot of things are happening.”
  5. “When in politics, I was always asked if I was a conservative or liberal. My stock answer was, ‘I’m neither, I’m a futurist. All my votes are guided on how this will impact our nation’s future.’”

Steve, here are also just two of many quotes you have referred to from famous people that are so relevant:

  1. “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An opportunist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill
  2. “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

I know this is not the end of our friendship, both personally and professionally.

Yours truly,
–Mel Weiner, President, Mandl School, the College of Allied Health

Steve will be missed for his endearing smile, his one-on-one candor, his ability to listen and adapt, his amazing dedication to the CECU mission, his tireless work ethic, his deep sense of humanity, his amazing output with a comparatively small staff not ever with a complaint, as well as his ability to think and work on his feet during tough times and for his intrepid leadership facing daunting odds. I will personally remember Steve as a friend and a “comrade in arms” forever.
–Duncan Anderson, Founder and CEO of Education Affiliates, Current CECU Board Member and Executive Committee Member

Steve GundersonI liked you the moment we met. How could I not? You are among the most affable people I know. No wonder you were elected to Congress!

In our nearly decade of working together, I have been impressed by your optimism, your determination, and your everlasting good cheer, even during the hardest of circumstances and harsh opposition. I appreciate all your efforts to advocate for our students and schools, including rebranding CECU, the 5 million jobs campaign, and the efforts to protect veterans’ choice in higher education, to name just a few. We have all benefited from your wisdom and hard work.

I will miss working with you. Thanks for your dedication to our schools and students. Thanks for all that you have done.

Enjoy your travels with Ethan! You have earned it!
–Nick Mansour, President, Arizona College of Nursing

When I hear the name Steve Gunderson, the first word I think of is genuine, a person of unquestionable integrity who is always able to maintain his dignity and to rise above the fray. While Steve has been our sector’s most ardent defender, he has never compromised his dignity no matter how ugly the opposition chose to get. Steve has a gift that we Irish call “Irish Diplomacy.” It is the ability to tell a man to go to hell so the man looks forward to the trip.

Our sector has benefited enormously because of the tireless efforts and wise counsel of Steve Gunderson. While the opposition to our sector is relentless, Steve has succeeded in positioning CECU as the preeminent voice of career education across the country.

We will miss Steve at the helm. We should all remember, as the saying goes, Steve Gunderson is a faithful friend and a sturdy shelter. I wish him the very best that life has to offer.

Thank you, Steve!
–Timothy J. McMahon, President, The Triangle Tech Group

The Honorable Steve Gunderson

Dear Steve,

Steve Gunderson and Steve FriedheimThe president and vice president of the United States, as well as senators, congressmen, and others, are entitled to use “The Honorable” before their names for life following their election or appointment. No one deserves this descriptor more than you.

Your eight years with the organization have proceeded much too fast. Seems like only yesterday you were introduced to the membership in much the same way as The Honorable Jason Altmire was recently announced as your replacement. There have been challenges along the way and you have faced them with poise and determination. I congratulate you for that.

If there are any regrets to your term of office, they do not rest with you, but with us. Too many of us at the front lines of our sector have failed to take responsibility for supporting the association. Too few have stepped up and joined the organization. Somehow, our new leadership should address this deficiency and use it as one of its major goals going forward.

As past president on the staff and past elected chair, you will always have my gratitude for the way you faced our adversaries and defended our rights to succeed on behalf of our students. I look forward to an occasional opportunity to break bread and rub shoulders with you somewhere in your retirement. I am honored to call you a real colleague.

–Stephen B. Friedheim, President, Education Systems & Solutions, LLC. 6450 Patrick Drive, Dallas, TX 75214

Steve Gunderson and I first met at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin in 1978. By then, he was serving in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Over all the years since, more than anyone I know, he has kept his idealism, youthful enthusiasm and hair! He makes a difference wherever he goes, and many of us in education are very grateful for his leadership in building coalitions and policies to improve services for students. Thank you, Steve!
–Wade Dyke, President, American Public University System

The best I can tell, the APSCU board hired Steve Gunderson to support our public image in Washington and to put on a good show each June. I’m not sure whether they hired him to lead reform in our industry – to change our focus, to redirect our conversations, to redefine what we identify as success, to bring our graduates to the front of our arguments, to slap us upside the head and change the way we talk, both publicly and internally, to each other. I don’t suspect that, by early 2012 when the board hired Steve, we fully realized that we were an industry in need of reform. But I was at those conventions in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, and it seems to me that, indeed, we needed change. Steve was the agent of change we needed.

On Steve’s first day on the job, I called the APSCU office to leave a message on his machine. My schools were not a member of the organization, and we hadn’t been for years. But the organization had successfully hired this legend from the U.S. Congress, and I thought it would be appropriate for me – a random, anonymous practitioner of the career education community – to leave a positive message of encouragement that maybe he’d pick up on week three or four after some dust had settled. I didn’t get Steve’s machine. It was 9:30 a.m. on his first day on the job, and he took the call, spent half an hour getting to know me, asking why I wasn’t a member of the organization, and asking for my perspective on what I’d like to see the organization do to support my students and faculty. At 9:29 a.m., I was a random, anonymous, faceless non-member; by 10 a.m., I was represented, heard, brought to the table and I had a new friend named Steve. And yes, Steve traveled down to Virginia Beach and harvested my institution as a newly rejoined member not too long later.

In my opinion, Steve didn’t just reface CECU in name and focus; he inverted the mind, heart and soul of our entire industry. He has been at the helm of turning us from a self-focused group of businesses into a student-focused body of workforce advocates and resources. I’ve never been in a room where everyone liked everything Steve said – he’s fed us castor oil when we’ve needed it, and he’s done it with a Wisconsin smile that made us realize that we kinda like Wisconsin smiles. Steve is a gentleman with such a positively persuasive style that he never had to say the words, You folks really have some changing to do to fully realize the positive impact you can have in our country (though I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him say those exact words at some point.) He led us to change – to not only to reface but also to reheart – and to aspire to be as effective at teaching students as he has been in teaching us.

We are a better organization and a better industry because of our years with Steve. I’m a better school operator and a better man because of the time I’ve spent with Steve. Steve’s impact will forever be in our lives.
–Joel English, Executive Vice President, AIM, Centura College and Tidewater Tech

Steve has always been a great voice for our sector. Whether facing headwinds or tailwinds, he consistently represented our schools’ dedication to students. We were fortunate to be a stop along his whirlwind outreach in California, speaking directly to owners and CEOs of the importance of joining CECU. He stayed at our Sacramento campus late in the evening, talking with each school representative who stopped by. As I was ready to head to my hotel, he said he had a late-night drive to get to the next school on his tour by morning. At that moment, we all knew that Steve was as committed to our schools as we are. Thank you, Steve!
–Janis Paulson, Chief Executive Officer, Unitek Learning

Steve Gunderson and Sally Mikkail BemisThe career education space has been extremely fortunate to have Steve Gunderson as a champion! For the last eight years, Steve has fought so hard to give our schools the opportunity to serve our students and communities. The first time I met Steve was shortly after he assumed his role as president. He contacted our CEO and my brother (as Steve likes to introduce him), Peter Mikhail, and asked if he and David Pauldine, then ASPCU chair, could visit our school. This was a first for us! In two generations of career school ownership, we had never had an association president ask or visit any of our schools. They both came and met with us and toured our campus. At the end of the tour, Steve asked us, “What can I do for you?” This question took us both off guard. We felt really special that he would come and tour the school until we found out he had also visited several other schools, with more visits to follow. That is when we learned that it was actually he who was special.
–Sally Mikhail Bemis, EVP/COO, MIKHAIL Education Corporation

A good leader often has a unique quality that aids in his or her success. It might be an unrivaled sense of vision and purpose for the future. The ability to inspire and empower others around them. Or a strategic decision-making process that hones in on the most effective way forward.

But it’s a great leader who possesses a combination of these qualities, and that separates them from the rest of the pack. Steve is this great leader.

Steve has been steadfast in his advocacy for students. And while they may not know it, his time, work and commitment to the education sector has had a profound impact on their lives for the better.

Throughout his career, Steve has been an example of excellence for all of us as administrators, political leaders, state association members, faculty and staff. We thank him for giving so much and wish him the best.
–Bhavna Tailor, Vice President of Operations, Eastwick College and The HoHoKus School

Steve Gunderson and Mitch TalenfeldVisionary, strategic, and unrelenting – three words that come to mind when I think about Steve Gunderson. Steve’s leadership has informed my decisions, helped shape my organization and has changed my life. As the allied representative on the CECU Board of Directors, I have witnessed firsthand Steve’s brilliance and his commitment to America’s students and the career education sector.

Steve’s vision evolved into my purpose. When it may have been prudent to diversify our marketing agency and do business with other industries, I doubled-down on working with career education institutions, which continue to be over 95 percent of our business! I wrote a blog while attending the 2015 State of the Workforce Symposium, which was a turning point in my life and the direction of our agency:

Pride and a Reinvigorated Sense of Purpose
I am at the Liaison Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. attending the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) “2015 State of the Workforce Symposium.” This annual gathering of leaders in education, government, research and business focuses on the emerging trends in the workforce, the workplace, and how to best prepare our country for the seismic changes facing us in the next 10 years.

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of APSCU, opened the program stating: “The goal of the Symposium is to bring together the best minds in emerging occupations and emerging occupational skill demands. I want this Symposium to be ‘the place’ where our sector, and all of higher education, can come together with business and labor economists to both look into the future, and then understand how we transfer this information into our academic programming.”

I felt pride and a renewed sense of purpose listening to Mr. Gunderson. He declared that “this is much more than a debate about policy or a debate about politics; this is a moral question about whether this nation will provide an opportunity for education and career skills that lead to real jobs, with real wages, with a real chance for a place in America’s middle class!”

In closing, Steve said: “There is no other place [he] would rather be than serving as president and CEO of APSCU, helping to lead this important work. But what makes this work special is that together we are embarked upon America’s most noble mission: to help new generations of Americans achieve their version of the American Dream – one student at a time.”

Steve, I will miss our early morning chats. Thanks for inspiring me to fight for our sector, our students and the work that we do. Enjoy retirement, my friend!
–Mitch Talenfeld, CEO, MDT Marketing

Thank you, Steve, for the visionary leadership and dedication you brought to work every single day. Your tenure at CECU’s helm has been hugely successful because of your unfailing optimism, forceful advocacy, ability to inspire, government relations acumen, commitment to government and public service, and your ever-present kindness, consideration and fundamental decency. Not to mention your oratorical prowess! Steve, you always kept your eye on the ball – not just what was best for your member colleges – but what was best for the students. Those students have benefited, and will continue to benefit, from your tremendous work in furtherance of quality career education for America’s workforce. Congratulations on all you have accomplished!
–Stan Freeman, Eversheds Sutherland

Steve Gunderson has made such a positive impact on my career and my school. We joined CECU to connect with others passionate about career education and the difference we make in students’ lives. Through Steve’s leadership, optimism, and commitment, we have grown professionally and connected with experts who have helped us improve the programs and services we provide to students at The Modern College of Design. We are forever grateful for Steve’s dedication to our students, the sector, and our schools’ success.
–Jessica Barry, President, The Modern College of Design

Steve Gunderson and Lynelle LynchI have had the honor of working with Steve for the past six years as the treasurer for CECU. We have experienced significant challenges as a sector, yet what I have admired most about Steve is his visionary leadership throughout the ups and downs. He proactively strategized research and initiatives that provided us with the facts and statistics to lift up our students and their successes. He is a brilliant communicator and I always look forward to reading his weekly Board update at 5 a.m. every Friday! Financially, he has taken the responsibility to guide the board with the right investments, hire the best individuals and lead with great passion and dedication.

I will miss his wit and insight into the political world and his 24/7 response to any question. Steve, you were the reason I joined CECU and stepped up to volunteer. You have inspired so many of us to continue to make a difference for our students that we serve. I wish you and Ethan all the best for a wonderful year of travel! Thanks again for all that you have done for all of us!
–Lynelle Lynch, Executive Board member and Treasurer of CECU, President, Bellus Academy and President, Beauty Changes Lives


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