For This Alumnus, Every Day at Work Feels like Coming Home to UNK

Posted: September 26, 2023 12:00:00 AM CDT

For Dusty Birge, who graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney back in 2011, going to work every morning feels a little bit like taking another Industrial Distribution class. His years spent in the classroom not only prepared him for his current career but also gave him the confidence that has been instrumental in the success he has enjoyed since graduation. Birge shares that what made UNK’s ID program unique was the way it “catered to an industry where the industry was feeding the university.” The industry was able to share that “these are the skills and the needs (they) need now.” Dusty and his family at a football game

It’s no surprise, given the extremely high graduation rate of the ID program at UNK, that Birge landed a job with General Electric before he graduated. Thanks to his experiences in his classes, he “walked into his first factory” after graduation and felt that it “wasn’t foreign.” He credits UNK for helping him, on his first day of his first job, to be able to seamlessly fit in. In fact, as a newly-hired employee at GE, he simply had to rely “on the basics that (he) learned in the ID program” where he was taught about “solving problems that haven’t been solved yet.”

After he went to work for GE, he moved every six months due to the role he played in their training program. His travels took him to states like Connecticut and Colorado before he decided, in 2016, to transition from GE to become a self-employed business owner. He shares that “something that was important” to him was customer experience and that he “was never satisfied that the customer experience was as good as it could be.” He knew he could focus on the customer as well as the problem that needed to be solved, a combination that has been instrumental in the growth he has seen as a business owner. Birge credits UNK with helping him to gain “the confidence of being willing to just quit your job and go out and do your own thing.”

His first business used drones to inspect power lines, a job that brought him back to Nebraska a lot. As one of the first in the industry to use drones to meet this need, Birge found that he had a lot of customers in Nebraska who were proactive and wanted to provide a reliable grid. Along with the desire to raise his growing family in a wonderful community, this helped him make the decision to move to Kearney where his wife, a fellow UNK graduate, is from.

It wasn’t long before he sold his drone business and started a new one. He shares that his experiences as an ID student at UNK helped him to feel “extremely prepared” and ready to take entrepreneurial risks. At UNK, Birge states that he was taught to “identify a problem” and then use his product and skills to “meet customer needs.” He believes his “midwestern work ethic paired with (UNK’s) catered curriculum to solve a real problem” gave him what he needs to succeed in the business world. He also shares that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the unwavering support of his wife.

When Birge reflects on his time as a student at UNK, he fondly discusses the “hands-on curriculum and practical skills” that were an everyday part of his ID course load. His team of five at Fast Forward, Birge’s vehicle-inspection business, incorporates that mindset into what they do every day on the job. They inspect over 30,000 poles per week, helping electric utility companies to lower their costs while using their technology to also prevent fires and power outages.

A picture from Ribbon Cutting Ceremony hosted by Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce

Starting Fast Forward isn’t the only way Birge is giving back to the Kearney community. He also spends time at the university that gave so much to him. Even though it has been over a decade since he was a student at UNK, he likes to visit campus and share his entrepreneurial story with the current Industrial Distribution students. He’s happy to see that the classrooms have been converted to “accommodate this new way of virtual business.” It comes as no surprise to him that UNK has been so “responsive to the industry’s needs.” He’s been brought in by his fellow alumnus Mitch Peters to speak to students, times when he shares how he “started from scratch” using the skills he learned in the same program they are involved in now. This full-circle experience is something Birge enjoys. He likes “sharing what (he’s) learned to see if it helps somebody else.” He states that UNK was very instrumental in his career, so it’s only natural that he would want to give back.

In addition to his speaking engagements at UNK, Birge is also open to the idea of having interns work at Fast Forward. He recently had an extremely qualified intern reach out to him. As the student shared that he wanted to work at Fast Forward because he felt that the company solved real problems, Birge knew he had succeeded at creating “an environment around something more than just money.” The student, who currently is an intern at Fast Forward, will undoubtedly walk away with an appreciation of Birge’s work ethic and passion for customer service.

Dusty and his wife

Birge shares that he is pleased to be acknowledged by UNK as one of the alumni, but he’s also quick to point out that “they’ve done a great job for hundreds of students, thousands of students” and that he is “not the only one that’s had a great experience.” He’s grateful that he has been able to experience so much success in his professional career thanks to UNK.

Whether he’s on campus giving back to the school that feels like home to him, working in the community that’s so important to him, or spending time fishing with his growing family, Dusty Birge is grateful for the decision he made over a decade ago to spend his college years at UNK.

Related Pages: Fast Forward

By: Sandy Brannan

Category: Entrepreneur, Marketing, Business and Technology, General

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