Mike and Sheri Hummel are high school sweethearts who grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona. When they decided to make a gift that would truly matter in people’s lives, the Hummels put their focus on engineering and cancer, and they put their trust in their alma mater.
Mike, the College of Engineering 2022 Alumnus of the Year, and Sheri share their goals for helping people mitigate cancer right now and for changing the way the disease is fought far into the future.
We’ve been involved with the College of Engineering in different ways. I think there’s a real opportunity right now to engage and create a legacy that goes well beyond just financial giving.
Sheri: The UA has a hometown feeling, and our sons felt comfortable there. Ryan earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering, and Kevin completed his undergraduate degree and graduated from the College of Medicine – Tucson. Since the gift benefits both colleges, it includes all four of us.
Sheri: I knew I was at high risk for breast cancer because of my family history. In 2006, I learned about a high-risk clinic offered by Dr. Setsuko Chambers, director of women’s cancers at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. I read about the clinic in the university’s alumni magazine. It was the only one in the Southwest. Although we had moved to Phoenix, I qualified as a patient and began seeing Dr. Chambers and her team once a year.
They always spent so much time with me. I drove down and saw them the entire day. It was a lot of time for them to put in for me. In 2021, I was diagnosed with breast cancer based on the testing they did. I was told that, without those tests, I would have gone another two years without a diagnosis. I am now cancer-free.
Mike: In two more years, who knows what the treatment and the outcome would have been. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that process might have saved her life. We’re very appreciative. For part of our gift, we wanted to support the high-risk clinic, as well as Dr. Chambers’ research at the College of Medicine – Tucson.
Mike: We’re also interested in helping to make fundamental changes in how cancer is detected, treated and understood. When we talked to Dean David Hahn about cancer engineering, we became excited to participate in a way that we hope really can make a lasting and long-term difference.
My background is in electrical engineering, so it's far from that. But engineering is really about solving problems. To apply an engineering approach to solving this kind of problem is both exciting and consistent with the way I approach issues.
This field is in its infancy, and a lot of work and resources will have to go toward making it successful, not just at the UA, but nationally. In March, we attended the Cancer Engineering Symposium, which brought experts together to share strategies and build community. We were struck by the passion and intelligence of the people engaged in this effort. Another force behind this gift is the excitement and commitment from leadership. Dean Hahn lights up when he talks about the future of cancer engineering and what it can mean to the university and to patients. We also are aware that the College of Medicine is very committed to this approach. We wanted to make sure that university leaders would continue to pursue resources to make this happen. They're already hiring great staff, which further supports our thoughts that this can be a reality.
Sheri: We've had a lot of family and friends deal with cancer. It's been a part of my life since childhood. If we can do something to help in the future, we want to.
Mike: We both came from supportive households, but there were not a lot of extra resources. We worked pretty much full-time through college, with our parents helping us all they could. Now we’re fortunate to be in a position to be generous with the gift as a result of our educations at the UA and the careers that were made possible by that. I served for 41 years at Salt River Project and retired as the general manager and CEO, and Sheri had a long career teaching first grade. We also have children who benefited from the College of Engineering and the College of Medicine – Tucson. For us not to help others seems selfish and would represent a lost opportunity.