Mines alumna comes full circle

Denise Dihle poses on the Mines campus
Denise Dihle '93 started her own engineering firm, 360 Engineering, which was recognized as the Women-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Department of Energy in 2016.
[Photo by Anica Wong]

From the moment she stepped onto the Mines campus, Denise Dihle ’93 felt at home nestled against the mountains in the small community of Golden, Colorado. She always knew she wanted to be an engineer and felt that Mines was the right size with the right attitude. “Everybody was in the same boat, and sometimes it was sinking, and sometimes it wasn’t,” she said.

Twenty-three years after graduating, Dihle still lives in Golden, running her own engineering firm just a short walk from the Mines campus. She is the founder, owner and president of 360 Engineering, a mechanical consulting engineering firm specializing in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing for commercial, government and educational buildings.

Yet, Dihle didn’t break into entrepreneurship right after graduating from Mines. With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, she worked in the construction industry for a few years before moving to a mechanical contracting firm. She then had the opportunity a couple of years later to work for a consulting engineering firm, where she eventually became a partner.

But after several years, Dihle decided to take a risk and start her own engineering firm. She wanted to “explain highly complicated things in its simplest format to allow owners to make risk decisions based on finances and not need to understand the world of engineering that we deal with.” She spends her days managing a staff of eight and catering to her clients’ needs. And, it turns out, the education she received at Mines proved to be an asset when starting her own business 14 years ago.

Starting from the ground up was challenging when Dihle first became her own boss. “It takes a lot of phone calls,” she said. “It takes a lot of sitting down at meetings, taking [clients] to coffee, going to lunch, all just to get your foot in the door.” In addition to the endless relationship-building meetings, Dihle had to learn how to run a company. “There was a lot of learning that had to happen along the way of how to operate a business and making sure you put the right professional people in place to help you,” she said.

Mines played an integral role in preparing Dihle to be a business owner. “Mines teaches us how to solve problems,” she said. “[Mines] does really well at making us think really broadly about what a problem is, what the problem statement should be and then how to step through it using your resources.”

After years of hard work, Dihle received an email in early March 2016 announcing that 360 Engineering was being recognized as the Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Department of Energy for providing exceptional performance directly contributing to the accomplishment of core DOE mission objectives. Anyone within the Department of Energy may nominate “any business that is woman-owned and providing catering services, representative. services or equipment to the DOE,” Dihle explained. “I had no idea we would go that far, and after I got over the initial shock, I called my marketing coordinator and said, ‘Read this email; we’ve got some work to do now.’”

Dihle’s goal for 360 Engineering now is to expand, preferably with Mines graduates. “We joke that we just tell kids to roll down the hill,” she said, referring to the fact that her office is in Mines’ backyard.

But the DOE award is not the only recognition Dihle has received recently. On September 15, 2016, 360 Engineering was recognized by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce as its Small Business of the Year. The Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce recognizes and honors women in business who significantly contribute to their communities. “It’s quite amazing to be singled out here in Colorado with all these great businesses,” she said.

Dihle gives a lot of credit to Mines for her persistence and dedication, saying that her alma mater has taught her to keep trying. “You have to keep trying to figure out the problem from a different angle, a different direction, a different approach,” she said. “You really just have to keep with it.”

Reprinted from the winter 2017 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine

Story by Leah Pinkus

About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public R1 research university focused on applied science and engineering, producing the talent, knowledge and innovations to serve industry and benefit society – all to create a more prosperous future.