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From baseball to the Marines, SDN team members bring variety of experiences to the job

What do a former Marine, a teacher and a minor league baseball player have in common?

They’re all part of the SDN Communications team.

While most of SDN's staff have deep backgrounds and education in telecommunications, the Sioux Falls-based company also has essential team members from backgrounds you might not expect. Take Trevor Lawhorn for example.

Lawhorn, a network engineer, joined SDN in 2016 after a career as a professional baseball player. Lawhorn played in the minor leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, the Seattle Mariners, the Washington Nationals and the independent Sioux Falls Canaries before retiring in 2012. After leaving the world of baseball, he took a job in the auto industry and began finishing his college degree — he had dropped out of college early to play baseball. Studying network security, he grew more interested in technology and telecommunications.

“I had always liked messing around with computers, so it piqued my interest,” he says.

Trevor Lawhorn holds baseball player bobblehead while sitting at desk.
Trevor Lawhorn holds his bobblehead that was given out by the Sioux Falls Canaries during his tenure with the team.

When he learned about an internship opportunity at SDN Communications, Lawhorn decided to take a chance. He jumped at the opportunity, and he's never regretted it.

Just four months into his internship, he was offered a full-time position.

Lawhorn admits he was “green” when he started at SDN. He didn’t recognize all the acronyms and needed guidance as he gained his footing. But that was no issue because everyone around him worked to see him succeed, he says.

His coworkers answered questions, pointed him in the right direction and helped him “grow and learn.”

"It’s one of the great things about the company,” he said. “My boss set me on a path where I could be successful. They started me slow, helped me along the way and made it possible.”

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Lawhorn says it’s not all that surprising that someone can come from another industry and find a home in telecommunications. The industry, after all, changes constantly. Everyone within telecommunications must continue to learn as technology evolves.

“This industry changes tenfold every year,” he said. “You have to continue to learn and grow.”

SDN's 'Core Values' bring employees from different career fields

Lawhorn is hardly the only SDN team member from a non-telecom background. Even Amy Preator, director of human resources, worked in various fields before landing in telecommunications. She’s been HR director at SDN for the past 12 years and sees the value in hiring professionals from all walks of life.

“Part of that is due to the fact that we try to hire … based on core values,” she says. Those core values are Servant Leadership, Positive Can-Do Attitude, Pride in Our Mission and Innovate, Challenge, Change.

“That doesn’t mean that we don’t look for backgrounds, experience and education in telecom … But if you have motivation and a desire to learn and a positive attitude, most of the time we can teach you what you need to know.”

That’s exactly what Melissa Dellman had when she arrived at SDN.

Melissa Dellman stands near front signage of SDN Communications.
Melissa Dellman now works as a network account executive.

A former middle school teacher, Dellman taught until 2022 before deciding to try something different.

“I was just looking for new growth opportunities and to challenge myself in different ways,” she said.

When an acquaintance who worked at SDN urged her to apply for a network account executive position, Dellman did her research, talking to those in the industry and reading up on SDN Communications. In the end, she decided that her skills, experience and motivation would serve her well. She joined SDN in April 2023.

New to the field, she admits to a learning curve. But with the right guidance and support, she’s been able to transition nicely into a job that feels rewarding.

“You got to find what works best for you,” she said. “And finding a very good company is the most important thing. I definitely feel that way with SDN. I love my job right now and I don’t anticipate leaving because it’s such a good match for me.”

Eddie Cotton stands near the American Flag as he previously served in the United States Marine Corps
Eddie Cotton now works as an IT support specialist.

Marines led IT specialist to SDN Communications

Eddie Cotton feels much the same way.

Cotton, who served in the United States Marine Corps from 2010-2017, found a home at SDN as an IT support specialist.

Cotton said when he left the military, he wasn’t sure what he would do next. In the Marines, he set up radio towers, so he knew that communications was an area of interest. But the next steps were difficult to navigate.

“I had no idea how to get back to what I did in the military. Everyone was looking for a bachelor’s degree or 10 years of experience,” he says. “Once I saw the requirements to get into telecommunications … I thought, this isn’t going to happen.”

Instead, he went to Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls and became a diesel mechanic. While he stayed in the field for seven years, Cotton says it didn’t fulfill him professionally.

On the advice of a former lieutenant, Cotton took a six-month computer course and earned his CompTIA A+ certification, an industry standard for those pursuing careers in IT.

With that in hand, he reached out to various businesses in the Sioux Falls area. None was willing to take a chance on him. Until he interviewed at SDN.

“Honestly, I’m kind of speechless,” he says. “SDN gave me an opportunity, and I ran with it.”

Cotton says SDN supervisors are hands-on, giving their staff the tools they need to succeed. They trained and supported Cotton as he settled into his position. It’s been life-changing, he said.

“It’s something I wouldn’t have thought of two years ago … it’s truly a blessing.”

SDN employees stand around cornhole boards and gather to talk at a team event.
SDN employees gather for a team picnic in 2023.

Preator says that SDN prides itself on finding talented, passionate people who love what they do and show it every day in their work. And sometimes, those people aren’t necessarily from a telecommunications background.

“The perfect mix is if we can get people with the core values and they have the experience in the field,” she says. “But we’ve had some really positive experiences hiring more on the motivation and core values.”

By looking deeper than a list on a resume, SDN Communications has found great success in building a team that’s strong and forever learning and evolving. It’s been a hugely successful approach for the company, she says.

“Somebody who truly embodies those values is so amazing to work with it doesn’t matter what industry they came from. Other employees want to work with them,” Preator says. “When people want to work with you, you’re going to learn and grow.”