Alumni Newsletter - Spring 2012

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Engineering a difference in Afghanistan and Nepal

Frances Fierst makes a mark on the world

College launches leadership program, mentors needed

Help engineering undergraduates excel

Engineering a difference in Afghanistan and Nepal

It takes a unique combination of skills and personality to do the work of Frances Fierst, a CU engineering alumna whose development work has taken her to some of the poorest and most war-torn locations on the planet. After several years of working as a mechanical engineer in the manufacturing sector, Fierst decided to change the trajectory of her career by pursuing master’s degrees in engineering management and civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. While at CU, Fierst became a member of Engineers Without Borders and helped to implement several water source protection and water delivery system projects in Ilam and Namsaling, Nepal, during the summer of 2007.

The  alumna, who obtained her engineering management degree in 2002 and MS in civil engineering in 2008, says she gained valuable experience through her graduate programs and EWB projects that helped her land her first job with USAID in 2009, a 13-month assignment on a provincial reconstruction team in rural Afghanistan near the country’s border with Pakistan. Fierst has since helped to train military personnel deploying to Afghanistan and worked as a member of a USAID disaster preparedness team back in Nepal. She’s currently a member of the Civilian Response Corps, a group of civilian federal employees who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide conflict prevention and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict.

A former U.S. Army officer, Fierst says she thrives on the adventure, but admits her work comes with a variety of challenges: “Uncertainty is hard – never knowing where you’re headed or for how long.” And, “things never go as fast as you’d like.” It’s also hard to know if you can really make a difference “in a place where they’re still shooting at you,” she said. This was the case in Afghanistan, where Fierst was required to wear full body armor and travel in an armored military convoy.

Still, Fierst said she loves her job. “I get paid to travel around and work on interesting problems. It’s great to experience different cultures, lifestyles, and countries … to work with military, governments, and local peoples you’d never get exposure to if your weren’t working internationally.”

College launches leadership program, mentors needed

In the 21st century, as the rate of technological change accelerates and the world is becoming more interconnected, engineers are needed as leaders in a wide range of fields, including business, government, law, medicine, and community service. To meet the need for leaders with technical knowledge and analytical and problem-solving skills, the College of Engineering and Applied Science launched a new Engineering Leadership Program this semester to provide undergraduate students opportunities to pursue leadership courses and experiences that would prepare them to be leaders in their chosen careers. 

To obtain the Engineering Leadership Certificate at graduation, students must demonstrate leadership through academics as well as practical experience in team-based projects.  Program requirements include a number of leadership courses, extracurricular leadership experiences, and participation in college-sponsored leadership seminars. Students also interact with a professional mentor and a produce a portfolio of leadership experiences.

The college is currently seeking professionals with an engineering background to serve as mentors for this program. While mentors need not have earned a degree at CU, this is a great opportunity for CU engineering alumni to give back to the college and help today’s students prepare for success. Qualified mentors will have some leadership/management experience and be willing to devote six to eight hours per semester to interacting with each mentee via email, phone, Skype, or face-to-face meetings.

For more information visit the Engineering Leadership Program website or contact JoAnn Zelasko.

Survey of young alumni shows majority happily employed

An annual survey of CU engineering young alumni showed the vast majority have a job, are satisfied with their career choice, and believe they are benefiting society. Of the 139 alumni who responded to the survey (27 percent response rate among alumni who graduated in the past three to five years), 91 percent said they are employed and at least moderately well-established in their career.

On average, those who graduated with a BS degree reported earning $69,150 annually, and those who graduated with a BS/MS reported earning $83,545 annually. More than two-thirds said they had received promotions or other career advancements and several reported that they are pursuing or are considering pursuing professional or graduate studies in the form of an MS, MBA or PhD.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science alumni online survey is sent out via email to alumni three to five years after graduation (timeframe depends upon major). The survey gathers information on a variety of topics ranging from alumni satisfaction with their engineering education at CU to current employment and future career plans, and is one of many assessment tools the college uses to make improvements to the engineering curriculum and extracurricular offerings. Survey data also factors into the accreditation of many of our programs by the Engineering Accreditation Commission and Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET (

Fellowship fund established to honor ITP alumna

The CU engineering alumni community was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Amy Barnes Frey (Telecom '85). Amy was the daughter of Distinguished Professor Frank Barnes, who has served on our faculty for more than 50 years and co-founded the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program. A fellowship fund has been established to honor Amy's memory and support CU ITP students for years to come. Learn more and give now at the Interdisciplinary Telecom Program website.

Spring 2012 Classnotes

David Wirtz (AeroEngr '61) was honored recently for his 50 years of service to the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, California. Wirtz has published more than 100 technical papers on electromagnetics, aerodynamics, and propulsion, has numerous patents, and is, according to a press release, the only "low observables" expert in the United States.

Douglas Eli (ChemEngr '77) is retiring from Chevron after 34 years of service. Congrats, Doug!

Alan WillenbrockAlan F. Willenbrock (ChemEngr/Bus '83) was named to the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Pacesetter's Club, a global recognition program for financial advisors. Willenbrock has been with the firm since 2007 and is a vice president in its wealth management office in Tucson, AZ.

Mohamed AliMohamed Ali (MS MechEngr '84, PhD '88), professor of mechanical engineering at Saudi Arabia's King Saud University, received a Gold Medal from the British Invention Show held in London in October. He is pictured here with his medal and samples of his invention: boards made of a new insulating material extracted from the fibers of a plant that grows in Saudi Arabia and bound together using an environmentally-friendly phenol-formaldehyde (cornstarch) solution.

Mark MilliganMark Milligan (EngrPhys '84) recently was appointed vice president of corporate marketing at SpringSoft, Inc. in San Jose, California, where he will lead global marketing efforts to expand the SpringSoft brand worldwide, enhance customer and ecosystem communications, and reinforce its position as one of the leading suppliers of EDA tools and services.

Jeff SczechowskiJeff Sczechowski (ChemEngr '85, PhD '94) was recently promoted to the position of assistant dean for research opportunities in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at CU-Boulder.

Christopher Sherry (ArchEngr '85) has been promoted to senior vice president at Merrick & Company, where his responsibilities include leading the firm's Business and Corporate Development Group. Sherry has worked out of Merrick's company office located in Aurora, CO, for more than 22 years. Prior to this promotion, he has served in the capacity of vice president, corporate services, where he oversaw the company's financial services, information technology, risk management, and stock programs.

 In addition to being a rocket scientist and COO of Westgate Resorts, CU engineering alumnus Mark Allen Waltrip (BS/MS AeroEngr '85) recently became a published author. His new book, "Recipes for Success: A Cookbook with a Recipe for Life," offers recipes for great food and a great life.

John MattsonJohn Mattson (ArchEngr '88) recently wrote and self-published a semi-autobiography of short adventure stories entitled "Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet." The book took first place in the CIPA EVVY awards and is available at the Boulder Book Store and many other locations. Learn more at

Mark ScholfieldMark M. Scholfield (MS CivEngr '88) recently was appointed vice president of Wilson & Company, Inc., Engineers & Architects, where he serves at the firm's Alternative Delivery Program Manager.

Andy KellyAndy Kelly (CivEngr '93) began a new job in November as a Design Engineer at Ulteig's Denver office. He was previously employed as an owner of AMK Design, LLC.

Brad Oedzes (ApMath '97) recently moved back to Chicago, Illinois. He plans to ride his snowmobile from the southwest corner of Michigan to the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this winter.

Capt. Justin ConelliCapt. Justin M. Conelli (AeroEngr '01) has been assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Army Airfield, N.C., after his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado (ACEC) nominated Daniel Harrington (ArchEngr '04, MS CivEngr '04) for the ACEC Young Professional of the Year awards. Specializing in lighting design, lighting control, day-lighting, and energy efficient design, Harrington works for Merrick & Company, which also nominated him for the ACEC Colorado New Faces of Engineering award. Harrington has been with Merrick for more than seven years leading a variety of projects including work for the military, USDA, Center for Disease Control, federal, state and local government.

Engineering Buffs Hannah Cassard (EnvEngr '10) and Tyler Silverman (ChemEngr '08) are working in the R&D department of Abengoa Solar in Seville, Spain, where they design and develop new power tower projects for concentrating solar power. Both did internships in Seville as students and were recipients of CU's International Engineering Certificate.

Tiana Stastny (ApMath '10) works as a support engineer for Oracle, assisting customers with financial software support. In her free time she participates in triathlons, plays the flute, and spends time with family and friends.

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CUEngineering:  A publication for alumni and friends. Read the 2016 edition of CUEngineering magazine here.

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