First-generation graduates, brothers hired before graduation make their family proud

The Grulkowskis are seeking to provide solutions in packaging and computer engineering at regional companies
Alex and Andrew Grulkowski with the 1966 Chevrolet C10 pickup they remodeled.
Abbey Goers | July 13, 2021

Two brothers graduated together from University of Wisconsin-Stout this past May. And no, they’re not twins. But as first-generation graduates, Alex and Andrew Grulkowski, of Independence, are changing their family dynamics.

“This is something big for our family,” said their mother, Laurie. “They’re the first in our family to graduate from a university. They’re making us proud and moving onto great things as contributing members of society.”

Andrew and Alex Grulkowski outside the Communication Technologies building
First-generation graduates Andrew and Alex Grulkowski / UW-Stout

The Grulkowski brothers had similar beginnings in the workforce, but their interests led them down different career paths. Alex, whose interests are problem-solving, design and engineering, graduated in packaging.

Andrew has always been interested in electronic devices. “What better opportunity than to learn how they work behind the scenes,” he said. He graduated in computer and electrical engineering, with minors in computer science and mathematics.

They were both hired before graduation: Alex as a packaging engineer with Ashley Furniture Industries in Arcadia, and Andrew as a test engineer with Hewlett Packard Enterprise in Chippewa Falls.

Hired before graduation

Both brothers are ambitious, Laurie said, having worked as young teens at a neighboring farm and as shop technicians at Jurowski Construction Inc., where their father, Dale, works.

Alex started at Ashley Furniture in high school, in the research and development department, testing furniture for stability prior to going on the market. After his first year at Ashley, Alex was able to pick his R&D partner. He chose his brother, and Andrew was hired.

Alex later moved on to Ashley’s packaging department, where he was able to complete his internship during summer and winter breaks. “I learned the processes of package design and testing, and standard operating procedures for packaging,” he said. “By the end of my internship, I was doing almost everything that I am currently doing as a packaging engineer.”

Andrew completed his internship at HPE last summer. He was on the Mission Critical/Product Issue Resolution team, working with customers to resolve technical issues. “I was able to gain some essential real-world experience in the field that I could translate to any related career path,” he said.


Photo of brothers Alex and Andrew Grulkowski who graduated together
The Grulkowskis with their remodeled Chevy C10. / UW-Stout

The Grulkowskis interviewed with their prospective companies and were hired on the spot. As a packaging engineer, Alex designs new packaging, primarily for ready-to-assemble furniture, and assists the production and shipping teams with packaging-related issues.

The knowledge Alex gained in his courses in general packaging, material properties and the design process is helping him in his career. “I would like to establish myself in the industry, and in the future start a company, whether that be related to packaging or not,” he said.

And as a test engineer, Andrew works with various types of software and hardware and validates that systems work together properly.I think the polytechnic aspect of my CEE degree will help me,” he said. “The coursework and labs allowed me to gain some essential knowledge to work in the field. As for goals, I’d just like to do the best I can every day and make sure I’m producing results.”

“Experiential learning is essential in the development of career-readiness skills,” said Bethany Henthorn, cooperative education coordinator and career counselor with Career Services. “UW-Stout’s Cooperative Education and Internship Program allows students to gain industry-related experience, which ultimately increases our students’ employability upon graduation.”

Driving forward into their future

While in school, Alex and Andrew remodeled a 1966 Chevrolet C10 pickup truck Andrew bought. Their grandfather had the same model of truck, which was eventually passed down to Alex. But he didn’t have the title, so the truck was sold for parts.

Andrew liked the style and bought his C10 when he was 16. When the frame was damaged when he hit a deer, the brothers started a restoration project.

First-generation graduates, Alex and Andrew Grulkowski, with their parents.
The Grulkowski family / Laurie Grulkowski

“We had never done any of this work prior, but we dove in and made it happen,” Andrew said. “We did all of the mechanical, body and paintwork ourselves in our parents’ garage. It took almost six years to complete.”

“The collaboration of our family to finish this project is what makes the truck special,” Alex added.

Like their dive into the restoration project, going to college was also a first for Alex’s and Andrew’s family. Their grandfather left school after eighth grade, and their great-grandfather only finished to second grade. Laurie, who is a licensed practical nurse at Trempealeau County Healthcare Center, was the first in their family to pursue higher education and graduated from three junior colleges.

Alex and Andrew are outstanding young men who are going out into the world as problem-solvers,” she said. “Living proof family cycles can change for the better.”


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