MechSE alumni provide sound advice for graduates
Over the years, MechSE has seen many successful engineers come through the department.
Two such alumni came back to campus to speak at the December 2015 Commencement Ceremony. William Jackson (BSME ’82, MSME ’83) and Melanie Willi (BSME ’11) both gave impactful speeches that touched on the lessons they learned from MechSE and their advice for the graduates embarking on new journeys after college.
After graduating from Illinois, Jackson pursued many opportunities as an engineer. After working as senior vice president and board member of Booz Allen Hamilton, he joined Johnson Controls in 2011. Currently, he is Vice President and President of the company’s Building Efficiency arm. He also earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, and he was named one of MechSE’s Distinguished Alumni in 2014.
Jackson called his experience at Illinois “unbelievable.” He spoke about how he not only gained an amazing academic experience from the university, but also lifelong friends. He also emphasized the honor of being a graduate from Illinois.
“It is an honor and privilege to be a graduate of this fine institution,” Jackson said. “Embrace that honor, wear it with pride, but also remember that you have a responsibility to the university.”
Jackson offered several suggestions that he hoped would resonate with graduates and provide motivation as they go forward with their goals. The first point he made was to “find joy in the journey.” He spoke about the importance of pursuing a career with passion, and enjoying what they do. He related this back to his own academic and professional journey, and that by enjoying the process, he was able to find satisfaction from his career. He encouraged students to “fall in love with the process, not the result.”
He encouraged the graduates to appreciate the “critical few”—the close friends they have made and will make as they continue on their professional paths. He said it is easier to overcome life’s battles with good, supportive friends, and it is wise to run away from those who are discouraging.
His last piece of advice was to remind everyone that time is limited and that they must “infuse their lives with action.” His primary point was to take life’s opportunities and not wait for the “right time” but to take the chances that come their way as soon as possible.
“Right now, you are the new, the next generation, but some day, not long from now, you will gradually grow old, and it will happen faster than you think,” he said. “Don't wait to have it happen, make it happen. It's great to plan for the future, but don’t live there. Nothing happens in the future, it happens now.”
A rising individual in the field of mechanical engineering, Willi started off as everyone else, right here at MechSE. Now, she is working at Caterpillar Inc., one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world.
Willi spoke about her a challenges with classwork, the long nights of studying, and intense group projects. However, she said they were worth it.
“I am grateful now because I understand that through those struggles, I learned how to problem-solve, both individually and in groups,” she said. “I know how to get the job done, meet the required deadlines, and seek out help when needed. I use these skills every day to do my job as an engineer.”
During the speech, Willi emphasized three points that she felt the graduates could take away as they began their careers post-graduation.
She highlighted the importance of approaching tasks with a “sense of urgency.” She spoke about how deadlines are more concrete and precise in college, but in the profession, engineering projects may take much longer than a week, a month, or even a year, so it is necessary to dive into tasks immediately so there aren’t any unwanted consequences.
Willi said the skills she gained while a MechSE student taught her how to work in teams, consult experts and her work partners, and fix problems that required more than one person. Teamwork, and delegation of tasks, she stressed, is imperative in engineering, and it is something she has learned to value because of her MechSE education.
Willi also encouraged graduates to “pay it forward” throughout their careers as some of the top engineers of the country.
“It is important to trust others to pass and succeed,” she said. “I believe we have an obligation to encourage others to pursue their dreams as well.”