Monday, December 21, 2020

On Sunday, December 20, 2020, Amanda Mikhail (BSE Mechanical Engineering 1999) was inducted into the College of Engineering's Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy as part of the Fall Commencement ceremony. Mikhail also delivered a charge to the graduating class. The Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy which was created to honor University of Iowa engineering alumni for their personal contribution toward engineering achievement, leadership, and service to the profession and to society.

Mikhail began her career at IBM in 1999 as an engineer in hardware development. In 2002 she was promoted to project lead, where she managed a $1.5M budget and led multiple teams through expedient program delivery. Mikhail is an inventor on more than 25 US Patents and was the second female in IBM Rochester’s 50+ year history to receive an IBM Master Inventor award. She was also the recipient of the Outstanding Technical Achievement award. In 2010, she became a product development manager where she led a teams across many US states through significant product development commitments.

In 2014, Mikhail left IBM to join Mayo Clinic. She currently serves as the administrative lead for research for the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine addressing the needs of patients through strategic discovery, translation, and application of capabilities.  Mikhail also serves as co-chair of Mayo’s COVID-19 Research Task Force  and co-leads the DERIVE initiative—Departments Engaging Research for Innovation.  She has a strong track record of employee development and commitment to diversity. 

Mikhail has been a devoted member of our College of Engineering Advisory Board since 2005. She previously helped transform the undergraduate curriculum to better serve student development and overall success. She currently co-chairs the Industry Strategic Partnerships committee to strengthen our industry outreach.

Read Mikhail's charge to the class:

"Hello College of Engineering Graduates!  My sincere thanks to Dean Nembhard, the Iowa Faculty and Staff, and to my fellow alumni for the kind invitation to speak to you.

First of all, Congratulations.  Sitting here before you is a huge privilege for me – having been in your shoes two decades ago, I know the hard work, dedication, long nights, and endless studying you went through to get here.  By nature, you have an intense passion for answering complex and compelling questions, and you’re grounded knowing not everything has an answer, not every simulation converges, and sometimes answers just lead us to more questions.   We’ve walked in similar shoes, and I admire you greatly.  

Like you, I graduated with my BS in Mechanical Engineering, proud, tired, excited, nervous… like you, I had just whizzed through my last finals, through the submissions of Senior Design, and blended the warm goodbyes, with the excitement of setting out on my own.  After my apartment on Iowa Avenue was packed up and crammed into my car, I drove north out of Iowa City, and eventually pulled in to Rochester Minnesota, late at night, on my own.  My new apartment wouldn’t be ready for weeks, so I found the cheapest, safe hotel to stay in, realizing two weeks of hotel bills would be equivalent of more than two months’ future rent.  I still remember falling asleep that night, a little disoriented and overwhelmed, but with the satisfaction of – I did it.

I walked into my job at IBM as a hardware development engineer, to a team of all men, and nearly everyone was 15 or 20 years older than me.  My IBM journey led me through developing leading technologies, almost always as the only woman, and typically, the youngest.  I led teams across the US, and overseas.  Even back then, working virtually was commonplace to us.  In those days, we didn’t have Zoom.  I actually liked the façade of being able to be an anonymous face behind my voice on a conference call.   Maybe people wouldn’t see my blonde ponytail, and maybe they would think I was older.  I just wanted them to value me for how I thought.

I was eventually recruited to lead critical impact teams –teams deployed when outages hit major data centers.  I assembled experts from IBM labs across the globe and reported to senior executives what our next steps would be.   In these report-outs I had to be concise, confident, technically nimble, and I had to be honest about what we knew about the outage, and what we simply didn’t understand yet.  It was an adrenaline rush, and an experience that would shape my future.

I share this story with you, not at all to shine a light on my own past, but to share with you an example of what an Engineering degree from the University of Iowa opens for you.  At Iowa, you’ve learned how to think critically across competing demands and requirements, you’ve learned how to work through problems that had no clear answer, and you’ve learned how to build teams, and communicate with confidence and humility.  Not to mention, you’ve learned this during the greatest pandemic to hit our world in a century.  You, of all people, know how to be creative and rise to the challenge.  

Iowa Engineering prides itself on developing Engineers who always bring more to the table, engineers who are well rounded in critical thought, excellent in communication, and with a grounded interest in seeking improvement in the communities around us.  

What I’ve just said, are not idle words.  I’ve met many of you – you’re strong, smart, gracious,  hardworking.  You’re creative, worldly and curious.  And you will be sought, not only for the knowledge you have, but the reason you bring to problems facing you and others around you.

After 15 years at IBM, I took a leap of faith and joined the Healthcare industry, and I now oversee large portions of Mayo Clinic’s Clinical and Basic Science Research program.  We’re working to discover and accelerate therapies that our patients need, but don’t yet have.  It is indeed humbling.  

In March of this year, just as lockdowns were starting to spread across our communities, I was asked to co-lead Mayo Clinic’s Research Response to COVID-19.  Within days, a leading Infections Diseases Physician and I stood up a Research task force to optimize our approach across test development, virology, data science, and the delivery of clinical trials.  You know the classes I had at Iowa as a mechanical engineering student.  Not a single one touched on antivirals, or the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  You would think that what I learned at Iowa, and in tech…didn’t matter in March.  However, it did matter, greatly.  Because how we as engineers think - matters.  How I could think quickly, divide a large problem into small parts, pursue multiple paths, and how I could

communicate and bring others together around a common cause.  And in this flurry of angst, little sleep, and high expectations, there was an underlying calm within me that this big puzzle was just another problem, with many variables, unknown outcomes.  

I wish I could look forward twenty years and see where you’ll be.  I can only begin to imagine the problems you’ll get to solve, or the people who will seek you out for how you think.  You will build upon these problems, and solve even greater challenges over time.  Because of your educational roots at Iowa, I am confident you will do so with cohesive thought, an emphasis on communication and a focus on the human element of your choices.

I wish you the best of luck as you pack up and move on to your next journey.  And as you take your steps, take notice of what you encounter, what you contribute, and what you’re able to solve.  It will continue to grow.  You’re well equipped, and these steps are just right for you.  Go do great things.  It’s great to be a Hawkeye Engineer. "