Meet the Speaker: Selene Renes


J. Michael Bertsch, News and Lifestyles Editor

There are 303 Perkins restaurants in the United States, but for senior civil engineering student Selene Renes, the Brookings location has something that no other store can offer.

“I know,” Renes said. “You can get Perkins anywhere, but I love the Brookings Perkins … You can just feel the Jackrabbit spirit.”

That “Jackrabbit spirit” extends far beyond the walls of the eatery she enjoys so much. 

Initially, Renes didn’t think South Dakota State University, a school just an hour away from her hometown of Harrisburg, would have what she was looking for. 

“I was definitely one of those students that was like, ‘SDSU is absolutely not an option,’” Renes said. “But then I visited a couple of the other big engineering schools. … I just didn’t really feel at home there. I didn’t enjoy my academic appointments there. I didn’t really feel encouraged as a female civil engineering student when I went there.”

But after a recommendation from a family friend, Renes reluctantly took the trip to Brookings for a tour. 

“It felt like [my tour guide] knew everyone, and everyone was friendly and smiley. It really gave off that homey atmosphere,” Renes said. “When I had my academic appointment with civil engineering, I got to meet with Dr. [Suzette] Burckhard, who’s a female professor in the department. That was really impressive to me that I got to actually talk and meet with a female engineering professor and then she really made me feel like the program was dedicated to my success.”

It was this tour that inspired Renes to continue with the civil engineering program at SDSU, become an admissions ambassador and now, undergraduate commencement speaker.

During her time in the civil engineering program, Renes joined the university student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), an organization for which she eventually served as treasurer and vice president and worked on the Concrete Canoe project team.

However, even in her work in engineering, communication was an important part of her college experience

“As an engineering major, there’s this stigma that we can’t communicate. We don’t like to talk to people. We don’t like meeting new people. We like our three people that we know, we talk to them about engineering, and that’s it, but that’s never been me,” Renes said. 

Her passion for communication inspired her to become an admissions ambassador, which continued to influence her communication skills and involvement at SDSU. 

“I’ve gotten to interact with different people on campus. I’ve helped in the President’s tailgate during athletic events, I have met tons of people at different admissions events,” Renes said. “Admissions has really helped me to feel supported.”

After her years in admissions and civil engineering, she has one last thing to add to her SDSU experience — serving as a commencement speaker for the class of 2020. 

“I’d say that I’ve really gotten to do absolutely everything I dreamed of doing here at SDSU,” Renes said.

***Renes will be speaking during the 10 a.m. graduate commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 9.***