For Anders Nielsen, of Burnsville, Minn., graduating from Winona State University is a family affair.

Not only is his dad, Erik, also a Winona State alumnus, his grandfather, Dennis, helped establish the Composite Materials Engineering program from which he’s receiving his bachelor’s degree.

As Dean of the Winona State College of Science and Engineering in the 1980s, Dennis Nielsen helped pave the way for the only undergraduate Composite Materials Engineering program in the nation.

“It was an uphill battle to secure legislative, industrial and community support for a first-of-its-kind baccalaureate program in the world,” said Dennis.

Today, the Winona State Composite Materials Engineering program has produced hundreds of outstanding graduates and serves as an integral part of the region’s composite materials industry. The program prepares engineers who develop innovative and effective material solutions for a wide range of industries, including aerospace, biotechnology, energy and sporting goods.

“I always heard great things about this school and program from my grandpa,” Anders recalled.

In the end, those “great things” turned out to be true, he said, from hands-on learning experiences and industry connections to the opportunity to work in the program’s high-tech labs.

As Anders joins the ranks of Winona State graduates, he celebrates not only his own achievements but the contributions of all those who preceded him and helped shape the CME program — including his own grandfather.

For Dennis, who currently resides in Eau Claire, Wis., the pride in seeing his grandchild graduate with an engineering degree from Winona State is palpable.

“Having my grandchild graduate with a Winona State engineering degree is a joyous milestone event in my life, given my history with the engineering program,” he said.

Anders is similarly proud to continue the family tradition.

“I’m proud to graduate from a great school and program that my grandpa helped build and get started,” he shared.

Anders’ words of wisdom to future Warriors echo the lessons learned decades ago by his grandfather and the philosophy of innovation and experimentation embodied by the Composite Engineering program: “Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. Failure is not something to be afraid of and is often key to learning and figuring things out.”