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UA Engineering Homecoming 2016 Highlights the Profession's Humanity

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Engineering alumna Claire Tomkins explains to the audience at the Engineers Breakfast why we need an engineer in the White House.
Engineering alumna Claire Tomkins explains to the audience at the Engineers Breakfast why we need an engineer in the White House.

UA Engineering Homecoming 2016 Highlights the Profession's Humanity

Nov. 3, 2016
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The UA Engineering annual homecoming breakfast made a strong case for the belief that society's ills will persist unless those with skills in technology and critical thinking, not to mention compassion, are given room to flourish in the corridors of power.

Guest speakers and honorees at the College of Engineering’s 2016 Homecoming on Oct. 28 and 29 captured the essence of the profession: forward-thinking problem solvers with heart. Working with people from the depths of poverty to the pinnacles of power, University of Arizona alumni demonstrated how engineers improve lives.

Call to Action

“How can we expect to be a superpower and a great nation if our leaders don’t understand the very foundations of our growth -- technology and innovation?” Claire Tomkins asked in her Engineers Breakfast keynote address, “Why We Need an Engineer in the White House.”

Specializing in clean technology, systems engineering and business management, Tomkins has been instrumental in a number of startups and is on the management team of Richard Branson’s clean-tech accelerator, the Carbon War Room. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in systems and industrial engineering and public policy from the UA and a doctorate from Stanford University.

“Only about 10 percent of members of Congress have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering or math," she said. “As a technological and science-based society, we need to elect leaders who understand technology and know how to leverage data. We engineers see the world a certain way. We are practical and disciplined. We build things and fix things.

“In some ways, that’s a good job description for a president.”

Tomkins also noted that less than 20 percent of engineers are women and that less than 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women.

“When I read these statistics, it makes me sad -- for the lost potential of young women and the lost potential of our society,” she said. “It also fills me with a desire to change things.”

Her advice? “Raise your daughter to be an engineer.”

2016 Honorees: Private Sector, Public Good

Nearly 500 alumni and friends attended the Engineers Breakfast, which recognizes professional accomplishments and public service.

John Somerhalder

Alumnus of the Year Award
John Somerhalder

BS Chemical Engineering 1977

Somerhalder is chairman and CEO of AGL Resources, the nation's largest natural gas-only distributor. He serves on the board of the United Way in Atlanta, Georgia, where he is leading an effort to develop 22 miles of historic railroad.

“At AGL, I often sat at the table with engineers from top-rated schools like MIT, but I never felt at a disadvantage,” Somerhalder said. “The preparation I received at this College was second to none.”

KD Hallman

Professional Achievement Award
KD Hallman
BS Agricultural Engineering 1983

Hallman is retired vice president of worldwide information technology at Microsoft and has more than 20 patents or patents pending on technologies for the internet of things, sensors and ambient computing. At the breakfast and in her talk to students afterward, she gave an insider’s perspective on what the future holds for computing.

A self-described lifelong Wildcat at heart, Hallman spoke passionately about mentoring young people and sharing her “love of work and love of life.”

Sunil Kishen

Professional Achievement Award
Sunil Kishen
MS Electrical Engineering 1991

Kishen works in Silicon Valley transferring vast quantities of proprietary information for clients from their networks to the cloud. After his startup, Sheer Networks, was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2005, he held leadership positions at Cisco and Intel before starting another company, Aviatrix, in 2015.

Kishen left his homeland of India to attend the UA. “I feel I started my life here in Tucson, and I could not have had a better landing in America,” he said.

Bala Krishnan

Young Professional Achievement Award
Bala Krishnan
MS Electrical and Computer Engineering 2003

Krishnan’s Silicon Valley company, Peel Technologies, offers an app -- downloaded 125 million times -- that turns smartphones into personalized, interactive remote control devices for connecting TVs and other home electronics.

“Engineering and entrepreneurship go very well together,” said Krishnan, who is helping the College of Engineering develop a new program in entrepreneurship with the UA Eller College of Management.

Sara McCoy

Bear Down Award
Sara McCoy
BS Mechanical Engineering 1993

In 2014 McCoy became the first woman to manage a power generation plant for the Salt River Project. She oversees the Agua Fria Generation Station, which provides power to more than a million customers in greater Phoenix. The College honored her for her volunteer work as president of the UA Maricopa County Engineering Council.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity to give back in the Wildcat tradition,” she said. “We all learn to collaborate here. And we all know that if we collaborate to make things better, we can accomplish anything.”

Tony Mulligan

Leo B. Hart Humanitarian Award
Anthony Mulligan
BS Mechanical Engineering 1988

College of Engineering Dean Jeff Goldberg surprised Mulligan with the humanitarian award.

Mulligan’s company, Hydronalix, produces a robotic rescue buoy dubbed EMILY. The Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, which can travel 40 miles per hour and hold five people, has saved people from drowning in oceans and waterways around the world.

Mulligan made headlines for dispatching EMILY to rescue refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Popular Science and Time magazines have named the robotic lifeguard a top invention, and the U.S. Small Business Administration honored Hydronalix with a 2015 Tibbetts Award for excellence in innovation and technology.

Mulligan is advancing EMILY’s sonar capabilities with help from UA Engineering students working on senior design projects.

“Without the education I received in the College of Engineering and the support I received from the UA, it would have been impossible for me to build this startup,” Mulligan said. “I’ve always felt strongly that this College gives you the ability to do as much as you want to do.”

Homecoming also featured a Centennial Lecture by alumna Marla Smith-Nilson, whose nonprofit Water1st International is bringing clean drinking water to impoverished communities around the world, and Lukas Lundin, head of Lundin Petroleum, who delivered the 11th annual W.C. Lacy Distinguished Lecture. It was standing room only at the dedication ceremony for civil engineering and engineering mechanics’ Edward A. Nowatzki Lecture Hall, honoring the longtime UA civil engineering professor and alumnus who died in May 2015.