The Unprecedented Feat of Perfection
One of the rare achievements in life is perfection. When people claim that something is perfect, there are typically flaws that have gone unnoticed. Furthermore, when perfection is accomplished, it is commonly over a very brief period of time. Steven Nemeth, a 2013 graduate of the Mid-South IEC and employee of Davis Electric in Memphis, Tennessee, debunks this conventional wisdom, by getting 100 percent in the Apprentice Program. Not only did he accomplish perfection, but he did it over four years.
IEC’s Apprentice Training Program provides the opportunity to learn in the classroom as well as on the job. Apprentices who find a good balance and place an emphasis on learning often excel in both the courses and the field. The classroom work consists of traditional book study as well as lab work.
Steven Nemeth approached his school work with complete focus and vigor. “Any free time that I would get, I spent it studying,” Steven said. “Whether it was my lunch break or reading my notes on the way to class, I always took the time to prepare.”
Steven’s diligence paid off in a major way. In his journey through the Mid-South IEC Apprentice Program Steven received 100 percent on every test, mid-term, final exam, and assignment. In all four years, he never missed a point – achieving complete, indisputable perfection.
“I have been the executive director of the Mid-South IEC for 13 years and every year at our graduation ceremony we have presented an award for the highest GPA,” IEC Mid-South Executive Director Walt Czyrnik explained. “Typically the winner is in the mid-90s, which is a very good score. For Steven to study that hard and be that committed; to ace every final, every mid-term, and have 100 percent all four years is unprecedented.”
The Mid-South IEC graduation is one of the chapter’s largest annual events; more than 100 attendees came to watch the apprentices accept their certificates. The speaker and presenter of the certificates was the Mayor of Memphis A.C. Wharton. The Mayor and the rest of the crowd were in awe that Steven had achieved such a rare and significant feat.
Steven was recognized on graduation night for more than just his perfect score. He swept the major categories by winning the award for best attendance, having only missed one day of class in all four years. Steven also won the chapter’s Apprentice Wire-Off Competition. This consists of a series of complex hands-on tests that fourth year apprentices attempt to solve to be named the Mid-South IEC Apprentice of the Year.
When Steven went on stage to accept his awards at the graduation the crowd erupted. It was hard to believe that one apprentice could accomplish so much. The first people to rise and give Steven a standing ovation were his fellow classmates. “We (apprentices) leaned on each other throughout the four years,” Steven stated. “We liked to support one another. There was a little bit of friendly teasing too; we are in construction after all.”
In all of the commotion Steven did not realize that he had received a standing ovation. When he was on stage his emotions ranged from surprise to humility. “I knew that I had 100 percent but I was completely unaware of how big of a deal it was,” Steven continued. “I was pretty shocked at the response.”
He received his certificate and plaques from Mayor Wharton, who was amazed of Steven’s accomplishments. Before Steven could leave the stage, Walt asked if he would like to address the audience to which Steven responded emphatically, “No thank you.” His humble spirit did not want to take too much attention away from his fellow graduates.
Two of the proudest people in the audience that day were Randy and Dana Davis, owners of Davis Electric. “I knew he was doing well and kept up with his progress,” Randy said. “We are so proud of his accomplishments, as we are all of our graduates.” Davis Electric had two other apprentices graduate that night, Jerry Boyce and Gary Taylor.
Randy is a member of the Mid-South IEC Apprenticeship & Training Committee and believes strongly in the program. He requires all young employees to go through the IEC Apprentice Program. He challenged Steven before he began the program. “I sat Steven down in my office for about three or four hours and told him I think he has the ability to do something special,” Randy recalled. “I challenged him not because I didn’t think he could do it, it was to motivate him to excel. I had confidence in him but it was hard to imagine he would do something this special.”
That challenge resonated with Steven. He said, “When he (Randy) challenged me I thought ‘I’m going to show him what I can do.’ It made me think about proving myself.” That added motivation continued to push Steven to do his best. Throughout his four years it would have been easy to become lackadaisical for one test. However, that added inspiration in the back of his mind drove Steven to consistently perform at his highest level.
In his third year, Steven begun to find his voice. He regularly helped other apprentices understand the instructors’ lessons. Throughout his third and fourth year, Steven used his ability to quickly grasp new information to help his classmates better understand the presented material. This caused Randy to challenge Steven again.
Following graduation, Randy asked if Steven would like to be an instructor at Mid-South IEC. Steven respectfully declined. Steven had gone to school for 20 straight years, with only a brief break four years ago. Prior to enrolling in the IEC Apprentice Program, he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Steven has not ruled out becoming an instructor in the future; he does have a great story to tell.
The triumph of perfection is a story that should be shared with all apprentices; however, it was nearly the feat that never came to fruition. In his third year, Steven missed a question on his final exam. Confident that he marked the question correctly, he went back to the instructor. The instructor re-checked the question and the answer key was incorrect – Steven had the right answer. The instructor corrected the rest of the class’ results as well.
That attention to detail is what helped propel Steven to never before reached heights. “The potential for human error is ever-present,” Walt stated. “To be that diligent is just phenomenal.” Steven’s ability to continually check his own work and his meticulous approach to test taking removed any accidental markings on an exam.
Steven will be the first to tell you that the perfection in all four years of the Mid-South IEC Apprentice Program was not done on his own; he had an excellent support system. When asked how he was able to complete the program with perfect scores he immediately shifts the credit to the people around him: the Davis family, his Instructors, Walt and Vicki Czyrnik at the Mid-South IEC Chapter, and his classmates. Of those supporters no one meant more to Steven than his wife, Jill. At graduation she was the only one cheering louder than his fellow graduates. “I owe so much to my wife,” he detailed. “She was so understanding of my desire to do well. She would watch our young children while I studied until one or two in the morning. None of this is possible without her support.”
Another helping hand came from the IEC Foundation which awarded Steven with an IEC Foundation Scholarship in 2012. This scholarship presented Steven with $2,000 which could be used for tuition, books, and other apprentice related costs.
While Steven was quick to deflect praise to his core group of supporters, this uncommon execution of perfection is a testament of his hard work. Walt and Randy agree that he is one-of-a-kind. Steven does not see it that way. "I think anybody can do this. It takes the perfect storm of a committed support system and the will to do it."
So now that you know what it takes to attain perfection, who will be the next generation to go out and do it?
Joseph Cephas is the Vice President of Public Affairs for the IEC National Office. In this role he oversees all national public relations efforts, builds the association's communications plans, and leads the marketing initiatives for the three IEC National meetings. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Insights Magazine. Cephas holds a Master's of Arts in Communications Studies and Bachelor's of Arts in Speech Communications, both from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.