Alumni Award recipients inspire students at panel
Last Thursday night, seven alumni returned to campus to share their wisdom and experience with students at this year’s Distinguished Alumni Panel, facilitated by Michael VanBlaricum (BSEE '72, MSEE '74, PhD '76), ECE Alumni Association Board president. The panel included Christopher N. George (BSCompE ’97, MSEE ’99), Richard T. Chan (BSEE ’01, MSEE ’02, PhD ’05), Azar S. Ali (BSEE ’81, MSEE ’86), Milton Feng (MSEE ’76, PhD ’79), Jo Major (BSEe ’85, MSEE ’86, PhD ’90), Sundari Mitra (MSEE ’88), and David Yeh (BSCompE ’83, MSEE ’85, PhD ’90). All seven received ECE Alumni Awards this year.
The award-winners gratefully affirmed the significance of ECE ILLINOIS to their careers. Major, CEO of InSite Partners, LLC, said that students have a “priceless opportunity” to engage with state of the art lab equipment. Other panelists agreed.
“My biggest surprise upon entering the work force was seeing how much better training I had compared to engineers from other schools,” said Chan, senior design engineering manager for Quorvo, Inc.
“Graduating from U of I, I was stronger than other engineers [in my field] due to the hands-on experience I got … U of I is a great seal of endorsement,” said Mitra, CEO of NetSpeed Systems.
“What sticks with you is the approach to learning you get here, learning how to learn and put problem-solving skills to use,” said George, an intellectual property attorney with Hanley, Flight & Zimmerman in Chicago. “With an engineering degree, you can basically do anything you want.”
The panelists also pointed to the diversity of the Illini student body and the strength of the Illini alumni network.
“Take advantage of the student body – it is large and diverse,” Azar said. “Different cultures contribute unique perspectives and thought patterns … What makes you even more successful [than mastering the material] is to be able to network … and be creative.” Azar is chief scientist for Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).
Major said, “You graduate into a community … If you get into trouble or things don’t go your way, people will be there to help.”
George added, “A network of friends and connections is important. It makes the world smaller, and they can point you in a new direction and introduce you to people with similar interests.”
The group also shared how they changed course in their careers, encouraging students to embrace unexpected opportunities and to be proactive.
“If you find yourself in a place where you hate what’s going on, find something you like and go do it,” Mitra said.
As in previous years, the alumni were asked to identify rising impactful technologies of the world. This year’s list included cyber defense, high power lasers and microwaves, electromagnetics, signal processing for electronic warfare intelligence, artificial intelligence, photonics, electronics and optics, and the use of engineering in medicine. The panelists challenged the student audience to delve into these emerging technologies and to tackle world issues such as the depleting water supply, climate change, and energy storage, transportation, and generation.