Susan Gray, president and CEO of Tucson Electric Power/UNS Energy Corp., welcomed alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends of the college to the 2021 Engineers Breakfast.
“Don’t tell the great folks at Eller,” said Gray, who earned her BS in electrical engineering in 1996 and her MBA in 2001. “But I’ll always be an engineer at heart, so I’m thrilled to be here this morning, celebrating with the best college at the University of Arizona.”
Gray’s keynote speech was about the similarities between her experiences as a triathlete and a corporate leader. Both require persistence, hard work, the support of a diverse team, and a commitment to lifelong learning. She also spoke about the importance of empathy and inclusion, and commended the college for its strengthened commitment to diversity.
David W. Hahn, Craig M. Berge Dean, opened the Nov. 5, 2021 breakfast with some of the college’s biggest news, including the hiring of a dozen new faculty members and creation of the School of Mining and Mineral Resources. He highlighted the role of engineering in the state of Arizona’s New Economy Initiative investment of $36 million in the University of Arizona.
“I’m really proud to say that one-third of those dollars went to this college, to invest in the future, to increase our student body, our faculty, our research enterprise, our teaching enterprise,” he said. “I’m really grateful that the university leadership and state government leadership see this college as a college on the rise.”
He also announced the college’s four alumni award winners.
Young Alumni Professional Achievement Award
Makko DeFilippo (BS geological engineering, 2009)
After graduation, DeFilippo earned an M.Sc. in metallurgical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and worked in technical, corporate and mining-focused private equity roles. He is now president of Ero Copper, a mining company primarily operating in Brazil. He has kept in touch with many members of his graduating class.
“No matter where you are in the world, you end up meeting great people,” he said. “That kind of extends to the department, which is great people who tend to be pretty tight knit because it’s a small industry.”
DeFilippo advises young engineers to “put in the hours with purpose,” to seek out great mentors, and to be unafraid to take risks. He also spoke about how encountering people with different backgrounds and perspectives has helped him grow.
“What makes the University of Arizona special is obviously the focus on research and academics, but also I think because of the size of the university, you have exposure to a lot of diverse viewpoints and perspectives,” he said. “There are a lot of clubs and opportunities for involvement that make for a really holistic education.”
Alumnus of the Year
Tom Peterson (MS, chemical engineering, 1973)
Peterson grew up going to football games at the University of Arizona, and when he started his master’s degree in the College of Engineering, he realized he wanted to stay in academia.
“I ended up basically getting my dream job, which was to be a university professor at the UA,” he said.
Peterson went on to become dean of the college, lead the Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation, and work as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of California, Merced. He advises young engineers to seek both breadth and depth in their lifelong education.
“I’m just unbelievably humbled to be included in this group of amazing alums we’ve selected over the years,” he said. “One thing I’ve always enjoyed so much about alumni events like the Engineers Breakfast is seeing the array of fields in which our alumni end up. They’ve taken those problem-solving capabilities and applied them in so many different areas. And I think that is what speaks so highly of an engineering degree.”
Professional Achievement Award
Carole Haig (BS mining engineering, 1985)
Haig has known she wanted to be an engineer most of her life. In her career, she has overseen planning, design and construction for major projects, including transit systems, vertical buildings, highways and tunnels. She serves as vice president of commercial projects at global engineering firm WSP USA.
“The world of engineers is so vast, and you need those people who are quintessential engineers, who look at a problem and immediately know what to do,” she said. “But you’re also going to find people like myself, who understand how to take all those pieces and put them together. It takes all kinds to serve the world of engineering.”
She’s watched the world change a lot since she first started her career, when she was the first person in her office to have a computer, as well as the only woman in the company. But her values have remained steadfast: Her biggest advice to young engineers is to never give up. While some challenges will seem overwhelming, with perseverance and dedication, they can be overcome.
Outstanding Young Alumni Volunteer Award
Maira Garcia (BS aerospace engineering, 2014)
Garcia is a first-generation student who found a home on campus as a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and later went on to start a fundraiser for the group. She is a senior advanced systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace, as well as the program manager for the company’s SHPE recruiting team.
“Receiving this award is such a sweet feeling, because I think back on my days as a first-year engineering student, when I was very curious but quite honestly had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “The college gave me the support I needed back then, and it means a lot to me that I can now support current students.”
Garcia encourages young engineers to remember why they chose the field, and to take advantage of opportunities like clubs and employee resource groups.
“It can be easy to get used to the routine of classes or day to day life once you start your career, but it is truly such a gift to study and work in engineering,” she said. “The work you do as an engineer allows you to help people, in so many ways.”
A Sense of Belonging
Sehrish Choudhary, president of the Engineering Student Council, brought the ceremony to a close with comments about her experience as a first-generation American and college student. She spent her childhood dreaming of bringing technologies from Iron Man to life. When she started studying at the UA, she knew she was right where she belonged.
“I was inspired,” said the electrical and computer engineering major. “I sat next to my peers, thinking ‘I can do this. I want to do this.’ I chose engineering because I was captivated and inspired by every aspect of it.”
Watch the Engineers Breakfast recording.
Watch Susan Gray's keynote.
Making Good in Mining
Later in the day, the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering hosted the 16th Annual W. C. Lacy Distinguished Lecture
Richard Adkerson, the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Freeport-McMoRan, spoke to friends of the department about how much the world has changed over the course of his career.
“You see the weather patterns, the forest fires, the storms in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “You can see it. You can smell it. It’s changing, and when it changes, we’re going to move away from fossil fuels to electrical forms of energy, and that requires more copper.”
In addition to an increased focus on sustainability, he said, the mining industry has developed a greater emphasis on safety and diversity. Women are taking on more leadership roles, and Freeport-McMoRan works to train and hire employees from the communities where it does business.
“That’s the great thing about this industry,” he said. You can do so much good for people. Give them jobs, help them with their health, their education. It’s a great feeling.”