Michigan Engineering News

Sirawit Shimpalee, an undergraduate majoring in naval architecture and marine engineering, works with PhD candidate Taeksang Kim in the Hydraulic and Coastal Engineering Laboratory in the GG Brown Building on North Campus

Helping students set a course

A professor and his wife set up a scholarship based on their experiences with getting to know their students

Sirawit Shimpalee began conducting research as a middle schooler in South Carolina, and the U-M junior hasn’t stopped since. 

He’s the first recipient of the Armin and Linda Troesch Scholarship Fund, a new scholarship for students with the potential to make significant social or technical contributions after graduation. Armin and Linda Troesch endowed the fund to provide need-based support for outstanding undergraduate students in Michigan Engineering’s Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME) or undergraduate students pursuing the study of engineering in the marine environment. 

Troesch is a professor of NAME, and Linda is a retired nurse who started nursing at U-M and continued in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. 

“Some of these students are extremely talented—they could make significant contributions,” said Linda. “You don’t want to lose their abilities due to financial barriers.”

Shimpalee has a lot of potential to make a significant contribution in the NAME field. He decided he wanted to be a naval architect in the fifth grade. His first research project, for an eighth-grade science fair, was on fluid dynamics and drag.

As a student at his research-focused high school, he developed research projects involving vortex-induced vibrations. 

The NAME program is part of what attracted him to U-M. He got involved with research in his first year, through a civil engineering project investigating how tsunamis affect breakwaters and seawalls. He has continued this research during his time at U-M. 

“I would like to earn a PhD in NAME, so I’m building up my research experience to help prepare for that program,” he said. “The scholarship took a lot of financial stress off my family.”

When Armin was a student, tuition at an institution like U-M would have been out of reach were it not for funding that helped him. And after 48 years on the faculty, he’s taught and mentored students who were working two or three jobs on the side. He recalls a recent student on academic probation. Working 36 hours a week and sending money home to his family, he couldn’t help falling asleep in class. Fortunately, the department was able to step in with a financial aid package that replaced most of the work income. 

While it is not uncommon for faculty to arrange bequests that take effect after they’ve passed away, the Troesches have opted to start their scholarship now. After decades of attending gatherings and seeing what it means to students when they meet donors in person, Armin and Linda wanted to experience those connections.

They were particularly inspired by Steve Kemp, a passionate and active NAME alum who stayed involved with the Kemp fellowship, established by his parents. Kemp would invite recipients of the fellowship to the alumni banquet. He rented formal wear from a tuxedo shop and treated the students to Ashley’s on State Street, still in their glad rags.

“That left quite an impression on the students, but also on me. Steve put a human face on what faculty or alumni can do and what the institution can do, and I think students appreciate that,” Armin said. 

Armin and Linda got to know Shimpalee at a scholarship and fellowship luncheon in the fall. Shimpalee said he talked with Armin about one of the intro classes on vessel design, explaining his fear that he would forget something important from it later on. 

“He told me not to stress out about it right now,” Shimpalee said. “He said one of the things that will help me build up that knowledge is experience—getting used to using the information I learned.”

Encouraging tomorrow’s engineers

Although Michigan Engineering has long been a leader in graduating female engineers, the percentage of women in engineering overall has been slow to grow. The Society of Women Engineers reports that the percentage of employed engineers who are women rose from 10% to 14% from 2001 to 2019, for a gain of less than 5% in nearly 20 years.

More young women may now consider an undergraduate education at Michigan Engineering an option, thanks to the Marian Engineering Scholarship Fund established by Shyam (PhD ChE ‘73) and Kathy Suchdeo (MPH ‘71).

Born and raised in Detroit, Kathy attended Marian High School, an all-girls school in Birmingham, Mich. As a student there, she found herself drawn to STEM subjects, but didn’t at that time have the guidance needed to see it as a viable career path.

“I was very science-oriented,” Kathy said. “I could have been an engineer, but it wasn’t introduced or encouraged in many women. We hope that with our scholarship, more young women will see their potential recognized and feel supported in being engineers.”

“On the whole, we want to see more women in engineering,” Shyam added. “It brings more balance, and I think it’s good for society in general. So it gives us great pleasure connecting Marian High School and Michigan Engineering to encourage more women in STEM.”

The Suchdeos say their own studies at Michigan wouldn’t have been possible without scholarship and fellowship support. They have since paid this generosity forward by endowing a scholarship and fellowship fund, each named after one of their mentors from their early academic and professional careers.

“We choose to honor our mentors—it’s that simple!” Shyam said. To connect with the students they’re helping, they recently met over Zoom with some of their scholarship and fellowship recipients. They also met with a group of students who attend Michigan Engineering and who graduated from Marian, to better understand their journey to U-M.

“Our success in no small part is based on folks who supported us, guided us, encouraged us—who lifted us on their shoulders,”  said Shyam.

Driving solutions for all

When Karl Iagnemma (BSE ME ’94) was a mechanical engineering student at U-M, he remembers doing a lot of what he calls “textbook engineering”—things like cost optimization and safety testing. But when he started his career, he discovered that the working world didn’t always match up to the one in the textbooks.

“You learn very quickly that the work we do as engineers has a transformative impact on society, often whether we like it or not, or whether we intended to or not—sometimes in ways that we don’t anticipate,” he said.

That’s certainly the case in the autonomous vehicle space, where Iagnemma is president and CEO of Motional, a Boston-based company that aims to roll out autonomous vehicles for ridesharing and delivery applications. Iagnemma’s experience with disruptive technology has shown him the need for a more diverse engineering field that benefits all people rather than just some. 

That need inspired Iagnemma and his wife, Ann-Kristin Lund, to make a gift to support the College’s equity-centered engineering initiatives, a portion of which will support the M-Engin Academy.

Equity-centered engineering aims to create a framework for teaching how social problems impact engineering and how engineers can fight inequality. The M-Engin Academy seeks to maximize the academic, personal and professional success of undergraduate students.

Iagnemma and Lund hope their gift will help attract a broader swath of students to the engineering field and help Michigan Engineering in its efforts to rethink engineering education. 

“My hope is that through this initiative and similar initiatives, students will come out of Michigan having completed their engineering education with a greater understanding of their role as engineers as well as the impact they can have on society,” Iagnemma said.

Investing in students is something Iagnemma has done in other ways as well. He and Lund set up an expendable gift to establish a fellowship in mechanical engineering, which gives the department great flexibility in serving the needs of recipients. Iagnemma also has been an Entrepreneurship Hour speaker, is a member of the Mechanical Engineering External Advisory Board and regularly mentors engineering students and others through the Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Every year it seems like there’s an increasing percentage of students who want to start their own business, want to become entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s part of the culture these days in a way that it wasn’t when I was younger. And so, I try to share what I know.”

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