Hundreds of College of Engineering alums and friends kicked off Homecoming on Oct. 28 at the annual Engineers Breakfast. Graduate Mark Chalmers and student Ainsley Limesand welcomed guests and shared their perspectives on the University of Arizona engineering experience. David W. Hahn, the Craig M. Berge Dean of the college, provided an update on college priorities and successes before recognizing awardees.
Keynote and Lacy Speaker
Chalmers, a third-generation Wildcat who graduated in 1980 with a BS in mining engineering, is the president and CEO of Energy Fuels. He began his keynote speech by reminiscing about his days as a student. He shared a nostalgic photo of himself and classmates working at the university’s San Xavier Mining Laboratory, which he called “a very important piece of the puzzle for mining engineers.”
“You have to have that connection with doing some work. The respect that I’ve gotten over my career because I understood how to mine, physically, was important,” he said.
In both his keynote and the Lacy Lecture later in the day, Chalmers spoke about the state of mining in the United States and globally.
The need for specialty materials and elements is growing quickly, he said. Rare earths and other materials are critical for electric power, electric vehicles, products such as cellphones, and processes including decarbonization. Many of these elements presently come from China and Russia, but Energy Fuels is working to bring mining of such materials to the U.S.
Chalmers sees opportunities for students to learn about and work in the burgeoning field: “They need to start looking at finding those elements, extracting them, processing them, and putting them into appliances.”
The Student Experience: Finding a Home
Limesand, a systems engineering student and president of the Engineering Student Council, began her studies in fall 2020 and took on a leadership role at a time when she and her classmates were resuming in-person activities following the online protocols of the pandemic.
In her former role as the council’s social and outreach director, Limesand was responsible for planning spring 2022 Engineers Week, a weeklong celebration of the profession. She decided to bring focus to the diversity of people, experiences and ideas within the college and give student clubs an opportunity to demonstrate what makes them unique.
Having entered engineering with a desire to leave the world better than she found it, Limesand noted that the experience also left her better by increasing her skills. It brought her joy to see her classmates having fun and re-establishing community after the pandemic.
“For many of us, it was one of the first moments when we could identify the College of Engineering as our home,” she told the audience. “I hope your time coming back home is filled with fond memories of the past and pleasant surprises of the future we are creating.”
The State of the College and Noteworthy Alums
“The only thing better than looking out at a sea of Wildcats is looking out at a sea of Wildcat engineers,” began Dean Hahn as he provided an update on how alums and other partners are helping the college progress toward its growth goals. “We have had a wonderful year. Everything is taking shape, and the support of this group has been amazing.”
Year-over-year growth percentages were 18% for first-year students and 19% for research expenditures.
Achievement of these goals will move the college up in rankings and productivity among its peers, Hahn said.
Also on the investment front, the college is attracting strong state support, including New Economy Initiative funding for strategic projects. And the university is investing in faculty and staff to support the growth mission.
Finally, Hahn announced expansion plans. The college will soon offer three new BS options: a biomedical engineering degree at the Phoenix Bioscience Core and a software engineering program at the university’s Chandler location. On the main campus, the college is working toward offering a computer science and engineering degree.
“Look out for the Wildcat engineering family to be on the move. The future of this college is extremely bright, and it’s a special time,” he said.
This year’s alumni award winners, announced by Dean Hahn, are as follows:
Young Professional Achievement Award
Meghan McGovern – MS biomedical engineering, 2013
McGovern has navigated the rapidly growing and shifting compliance and assurance space over the last decade at companies such as Thayer Medical Corp. and Xeridiem Medical Devices. She also co-founded global company AZ Technica LLC, a firm that provides regulatory expertise to medical companies, in 2020.
McGovern is dedicated to supporting women in science and engineering. Her best advice to students and recent graduates is to remain open to different career opportunities.
“There is so much diversity in the engineering field that no two career pathways have to be the same,” she said.
McGovern also recommends that students join professional organizations to start networking.
“Study hard to ensure you are learning everything you need to, but don’t forget that the time you spend outside of class can be equally as important.”
Alumnus of the Year
Mike Hummel – BS electrical engineering, 1982
Hummel is Salt River Project’s general manager and CEO. In more than 40 years of service, he has taken on executive positions in almost every area of the utility company. Hummel’s UA experience has stuck with him throughout his career.
“The core was centered on understanding how to define a problem, providing the tools to analyze the problem, and the requirement to present a solution,” he said.
A third-generation Wildcat, Hummel remains connected to the college and the university through volunteer leadership and engagement opportunities.
“We’re facing a lot of serious issues as an industry and a society. It won’t be today’s minds and leaders that solve those problems; it will be those individuals coming out of colleges and universities now,” he said. “The University of Arizona can and should be a leader in preparing those students, and I am proud to be a part of it.”
Professional Achievement Award
Mark Baker – BS electrical engineering, 1978
Baker is the founder of CheckMark Consulting, Inc. and an innovator in the mining industry. He has advanced autonomous haulage systems, including for Komatsu, which acquired Modular Mining Systems, a company he helped found. Baker appreciates the rational and logical problem-solving offered by the engineering profession.
“An engineering approach can be applied to problems in virtually any discipline. This opens the doors to unlimited opportunities,” he said.
At the UA, Baker is a commercialization partner with Tech Launch Arizona and a volunteer leader for the college, the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, and the School of Mining and Mineral Resources.
“Passing on the knowledge one gains throughout one’s career helps the succeeding generations focus on current problems without getting dragged down with issues that have already been solved. I am grateful that the University of Arizona has allowed me to do so in a variety of ways,” Baker said.
Bear Down Award
Ron Rich – BS mechanical engineering, 1982
For more than two decades, Rich, general manager and vice president of Intertec Engineering, has been a partner to the college and its Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program – as a guest lecturer, mentor and judge. Additionally, he serves on the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Board.
Rich retired in 2018 as Honeywell’s director of engineering for auxiliary power systems.
“My degree in mechanical engineering enabled my successful career,” Rich said. He also never forgot the good times he enjoyed as a student: “It is my university; I have very good memories of my time on campus.”
During his long career at Honeywell, the company supported more than 70 senior design projects.
“My contributions to the college and the senior design program represent my way of supporting something that I believe in and paying forward to the next generation of engineers.”
Watch the Engineers Breakfast recording
Watch Mark Chalmers’ keynote