FREEMAN — Shay Saarie has been immersed in the automotive world for about as long as he can remember.

The Freeman native and Dakota Wesleyan University junior grew up surrounded by the clanks and bangs of his family’s garage and auto body shop, Saarie Auto Body & Repair, owned by his parents Blaine and Penny, learning to tinker with engines and keeping a vehicle looking good and running smoothly.

He recently applied that knowledge in an effort to gain a 2020 scholarship from the Specialty Equipment Market Association, as well as several other scholarships totaling over $10,000 that he plans to put toward his tuition.

It was a process he undertook himself, without specific guidance from Dakota Wesleyan University, and he was happy to learn that he had been named a recipient.

“I didn’t really think (DWU) would be that interested,” Saarie said with a laugh during a recent interview. “But I was very proud of myself for getting it.”

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The SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund awarded $307,000 to 106 individuals in 2020, including scholarships for current students and loan-forgiveness awards to employees of SEMA-member companies. More than $3 million has been awarded to more than 1,600 students since the program’s establishment in 1984.

The scholarship fund and the SEMA Loan Forgiveness Program are dedicated to fostering the next generation of automotive aftermarket industry leaders and innovators by helping them get off to a successful start in their educational and automotive aftermarket careers, according to the group’s website.

“We’re excited to award this passionate group of individuals with our support as they embark on finding new ways to advance the future of the specialty-equipment aftermarket,” said SEMA Board of Directors Chairman Tim Martin. “This year’s winners represent the diversity and young talent that our industry thrives on, and we look forward to how their contributions will drive us forward for years to come.”

Being named a recipient of the scholarship included a trip to Las Vegas at the yearly SEMA show held in Las Vegas from Nov. 1-5, which he attended with his parents. The trip was an excellent opportunity to meet fellow recipients of the scholarship and network with industry professionals who were looking to fill job positions and internships.

While he applied for and received one of the 2020 scholarships, his recognition and trip were delayed a year due to COVID-19.

Saarie is a junior studying business administration and has taken it upon himself to utilize his experience of growing up in a business environment to kickstart his educational experience. As part of his studies, as a freshman, he started his own on-campus mechanic service, performing oil changes, brake pad replacements and other standard tune-up chores for fellow students. And in addition to other campus activities, he also works part time at Doug's Custom Paint & Body in Mitchell.

Shay Saarie, a Freeman native and junior at Dakota Wesleyan University, was recently named a recipient of the 2020 SEMA Memorial Scholarship. Saarie has applied for and received multiple scholarships as he looks to establish a career in management in the automotive industry. Here, Saarie stands next to the 1979 Ford F150 Ranger pickup that was originally owned by his grandfather. He and his father restored it to its former glory at his parents' auto body and mechanic garage in Freeman. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)
Shay Saarie, a Freeman native and junior at Dakota Wesleyan University, was recently named a recipient of the 2020 SEMA Memorial Scholarship. Saarie has applied for and received multiple scholarships as he looks to establish a career in management in the automotive industry. Here, Saarie stands next to the 1979 Ford F150 Ranger pickup that was originally owned by his grandfather. He and his father restored it to its former glory at his parents' auto body and mechanic garage in Freeman. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

“I got started (in auto work) because my parents own Saarie Auto Body in Freeman, and all my life I’ve been building vehicles and doing overhauls with my dad here at the shop and at home. So all of my high school years were filled with rebuilding motors, painting cards with my dad and having a great time with it,” Saarie said. “I started running a little shop on campus for everybody who needs an oil change or just general maintenance.

The scholarship will help with his tuition costs, but it also gave him the chance to travel and network with professionals from all parts of the automotive industry. That was particularly helpful, as he aims to find himself a career somewhere in industrial management as opposed to having his head under a car hood as part of his career.

He plans to graduate early next year, and will be seeking out internship possibilities that could lead him to the next step in his career search.

“Internships are up next. I’ve been the greasy guy. I love working on motors and doing the mechanical side of it and I’ve done some work in the auto body shop, too,” Saarie said. “But I think I would fit in more in a manager-type position.”

In the meantime, he has found ways to keep himself busy, if nothing else by applying for more scholarships. When he applied to and received the 2020 SEMA scholarship, he didn’t realize he was eligible to apply for it every year, so he skipped an application for the 2021 scholarship. He expects he will re-apply for it again in 2022, and he hopes for continued luck in receiving it.

He’s had good luck so far already. In addition to the SEMA scholarship, valued at $5,000, he has also received a $2,200 scholarship from the Automotive Aftermarket Foundation, a $1,000 scholarship from Modern Woodmen of America, a $1,000 scholarship from the Freeman Community Foundation and a $2,200 scholarship from the South Dakota Retailers Association.

They all require a little something different. Part of his application for the Automotive Aftermarket Foundation Scholarship included a video breakdown of he and his dad’s efforts to restore his grandfather’s 1979 Ford F150 Ranger pickup, the first car Saarie ever owned.

Saarie said he’s loved his time at DWU and is looking forward to the home stretch of his time on the Mitchell campus. He also noted Scholarships come in all shapes and sizes and college students can do little wrong by going out and trying for those scholarships.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Sign up for as many as you can. All you can do is win or lose, it doesn’t matter. You’re not giving anything away other than your effort of filling out the application,” Saarie said.