Opportunity knocks, engineering grad answers…and keeps the door wide open

BreeAnn Schmidt
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, College of Engineering & Applied Science
Hometown: Brillion, Wis.
It’s a fact:  She is a certified scuba diver and once traveled to Australia, where she spent time diving the Great Barrier Reef.

When she was asked to join the only all-female High Mileage Vehicle Challenge team in the state high school competition, BreeAnn Schmidt discovered her career dreams.

Her passion for innovation flourished, and eventually led her to pursue her engineering degree. She chose UWM because of the quality of its engineering program. But she also notes that the professors at UWM are special, because they truly care about what students want to do after graduation.

“My professors always related coursework to real-world situations,” says Schmidt. “We visited so many different plants in Milwaukee to see how they work, instead of just sitting in class.” She says homework, projects and lessons always applied to real work situations to make learning not only thought-provoking, but results-producing.

One class that stood out was her senior design class.

“We got to work with Harley-Davidson, rebalancing their small-engine line,” Schmidt explains. “We worked with their engineers and operators, and experienced what it would be like in the workforce doing what we want to do when we graduate.”

Beyond classes, Schmidt also participated in the International Industrial/Academic Leadership Experience Program, spending a summer studying abroad in Taiwan.

“It’s really hard to find study-abroad programs that focus specifically on what I want to do, but this one was perfect,” says Schmidt. “I was put in a group with Taiwanese students, and learned so much about technology and communicating with other cultures. It’s really helped me in my internships.”

Schmidt has spent the past two years interning at GE Healthcare, working in lean manufacturing and sourcing with suppliers from all over the world.

“Lean manufacturing is all about process improvement and trying to make things flow better,” Schmidt explains. “It’s about finding ways to eliminate waste, bottlenecks and anything that could be holding up processes.”

She has also been an active member of the Society of Women Engineers and Institute of Industrial Engineers chapters at UWM.

“All the organizations UWM offers are so helpful for networking, meeting different companies and being involved in events,” says Schmidt. “I don’t think you could get that exposure anywhere else.”

When she attended one such event through UWM, she was exposed to over 250 hiring companies. She had several on-the-spot interviews and was flown to interview with several other companies afterward.

She eventually received six job offers – all before her December graduation.

Though the decision to choose just one position was difficult, she decided to enter the Chrysler Leadership Development Program – a two-year program that will allow her to spend time in various engineering positions before selecting a final career path at Chrysler.

“I’ll rotate positions every four months to get all aspects of the business,” Schmidt explains. “I’ll be getting five years of experience in just two years.”

During that time, she also plans to complete her MBA.

In the end, Schmidt hopes to move into a manufacturing management role. But no matter where she goes from there, it’s clear Schmidt will always engineer amazing opportunities.

A caring heart leads to a caregiving career

Sue Grochowski
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Nursing, College of Nursing
Hometown: San Pedro Sula, Honduras
It’s a fact: In her free time, Grochowski enjoys learning and practicing the art of belly dancing.

TV’s Mister Rogers once said, “Always look for the helpers.” If you are looking for one of those helpers, look no further than Sue Grochowski.

This College of Nursing graduate began her journey an ocean away. And as fate would have it, it was an immense sea that would carry her to UWM.

Grochowski was born and raised in Honduras, and moved to New Orleans when she was 15. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of New Orleans and was working as a research technician.

And then Hurricane Katrina struck.

“It happened so suddenly,” Grochowski says. “I was so involved with my work that I didn’t leave until the night before Katrina hit. I only packed for three days, and I was away for almost three months.”

Katrina may have shattered a city, but it couldn’t rattle Grochowski.

She returned home to help family and friends as they transitioned back into the city. Soon afterward, she moved to Milwaukee with a colleague and began working as a researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin. But she felt there was still more she wanted to accomplish.

“I was missing a piece in my career,” says Grochowski. “I felt nursing was the right fit for me because I would be able to interact with patients and help out in the community.”

She chose to pursue her nursing degree at UWM because of its focus on community health.

During her studies, she has had many memorable experiences. She traveled to Australia with the International Scholar Laureate Program nursing delegation, where she learned about the country’s health care system. And during her first clinical semester, her mentor, instructor Marijo Rommelfaenger, introduced her to the National Kidney Foundation’s KEEP (Kidney Early Evaluation Program) screenings.

“It has made such an impact on my life,” reflects Grochowski. “I became so passionate about what they were doing for at-risk populations. It made me realize that this is what I really want to do.”

Grochowski remains an active volunteer with the Kidney Foundation, performing health screenings for diabetes and serving as a bilingual Spanish interpreter.

“I really enjoy volunteering,” she says. “It brings me back to focus on why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Now Grochowski works as a patient care assistant at Froedtert Hospital, and is doing clinicals in the labor and delivery unit at St. Joseph Hospital.

After graduation she plans to use the knowledge she’s gained through her studies and professional experiences to take her National Council Licensure Examination. She has already been accepted to the Doctorate of Nursing Practice program at UWM. Her goal is to become a Nurse Practitioner, focusing on families and educating vulnerable populations about the importance of preventive care.

“I want to have an impact educating people on primary prevention,” says Grochowski. “Education is the key to helping people make good health decisions, and identifying chronic diseases earlier so that the patient isn’t suffering for years.”

Though the years have led Grochowski in unexpected directions, one thing remains certain. Helping others will always be her path to success.

Advancing her education to help kids and families

Marande Buck
Degree: Master of Social Work, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare
Hometown: Milwaukee
It’s a fact: Buck is active with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and is her chapter’s coordinator for Stork’s Nest, a program that provides baby supplies, prenatal education and other assistance to expectant mothers in Milwaukee.

Marande Buck’s family took in countless foster kids when she was growing up. Now she carries on the tradition in her own way – by working as a foster care licensing specialist to help more children find safe and happy homes.

“I always wanted to go into a helping profession,” says Buck, who considered nursing and education before earning her bachelor’s degree in social welfare from UW-Madison.

Now Buck is graduating with an MSW from UWM’s Social Work Department. She has also earned a certificate from the department’s Child Welfare Training Program, a state- and federally-funded program that covered the cost of her degree in exchange for service to the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. After graduation, Buck will continue to work for Saint Aemilian-Lakeside, a Milwaukee agency that contracts with the bureau.

Full-time work will probably seem like a break after four years of juggling her foster care caseload along with graduate school, a required internship and parenting her young daughter. Her baby was just a few months old when Buck’s supervisor encouraged her to go back for her master’s degree and social worker certification. With support from her daughter’s father, family and friends, she decided to dive in.

“I really, really like what I do now, but in the event that I want to go on to a higher position or a different position, having the master’s and certification will be a big help,” she says.

One of the highlights was her 10-month internship at Sherman Park Lutheran School, in Milwaukee, where she handled everything from counseling to running support groups to locating resources for families in need. “My internship was amazing,” she says. “Wherever we were needed, that’s where we went. They pretty much just threw us in there and let us get to work.”

Although the internship piqued her interest in school social work, she’s not ready to give up working with foster care families quite yet. Her experiences at UWM have already impacted the way she approaches her clients.

“I’ve worked throughout the process, so things that I learned in class I was able to implement right away,” she says. “I learned a lot about how to deal with different people, and that you can’t expect people to respond or react a certain way just because they’re foster parents. They’re humans, too. I learned you have to meet people where they are.”

Buck is most proud of the fact that she was able to finish her degree before her 30th birthday. “It took me five years to get my bachelor’s, and I initially said I wasn’t going back to school,” she says. “So being able to accomplish this before I was 30 is a big deal for me. I feel like I’m a role model for my daughter and younger nephews and nieces.”

And she encourages other working adults to go for their academic goals, even if it seems intimidating at first. “If you want to do it, just do it,” she says. “You may be waiting for the perfect time, and the perfect time may never come.”

A second try at college leads to success – and a career transformation

Brendon Dorn
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Economics, College of Letters and Science
Hometown: Milwaukee
It’s a fact: Dorn also runs a strength and conditioning business out of his garage and competes in Olympic weightlifting as part of Milwaukee Barbell.

The first time Brendon Dorn tried UWM, it didn’t stick.

“I was not ready to take school seriously at that level. I barely scraped by and got D’s across the board,” he says. He dropped out after a semester and spent a few years working in landscaping and other odd jobs before realizing that his life wasn’t going to change if he didn’t further his education. So he completed his associate’s degree at Milwaukee Area Technical College and then transferred to UWM.

“What made the difference when
 I returned to UWM in 2012 was that I had enough pain in my 
life and job, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this.’ And I had 
a lot of encouragement from people – faculty, family, friends, my wife. I’ve been getting all A’s and B’s ever since,” he says.

Once at UWM, he connected with his adviser, Gwyn Wallander, whom he calls “an absolute rock star.” She was the one who urged him to consider economics, a major he’d never before considered but now loves. It fueled his passion for math and science, and got him thinking about the world in a new way.

“When I started, I was thinking all finance. I wanted to be a chief economist…. I was thinking very macro,” he says. “Then I started seeing this aspect of behavioral economics fold in. I saw how people are supposed to think rationally, but we don’t. People are supposed to act like anything is greater than nothing, and we don’t act that way.

“And so I really started to fall in love with the theory and how these theories could explain people’s behavior. …The more I learned, the more I grew to like it.”

Outside of class, Dorn got involved with the Milwaukee Data Initiative, the Society for Advanced Economic Studies and the Department of Economics’ mentoring program, which paired him with a veteran economist in Minnesota. UWM’s Career Development Center helped him polish his resume, and he soon landed an internship at Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI), a company that specializes in building automation and efficiency.

It turned out to be a perfect fit for Dorn’s data analysis skills, and within months ESI offered him a full-time job. As a performance analyst, Dorn focuses on energy trends, demand forecasting, predictive maintenance and operational efficiencies, and he’s partnering with a UWM professor to construct a field experiment for one of ESI’s customers.

“I have everything I had been working for in less than a year,” Dorn says. “I could not have created a better job.”

Now he’d love to give back as a mentor to other economics students, and eventually return to UWM for a graduate degree.

“I really want to teach,” he says. “The thing that made me love this discipline was that I had teachers who broke down these concepts and made it practical. That fascinates me, and I want to be able to do that for people. The more people who know economics, the better.”

He hopes to share the lesson he learned:

“Just because you didn’t graduate at 22 or 23, don’t ever think you’re not able to have success at a later time,” he says. “If you’re even thinking of going back to school, just go back, chip away even if it’s one class per semester. That’s going to better your life.”

Forging new careers

Aaron De Lanty
Degree: Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Peck School of the Arts
Hometown: Chilton, Wis.
It’s a fact: He started his own laser-cut jewelry and accessories business, Delandtree.
Emily Mondloch
Degrees: Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Peck School of the Arts; Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, Lubar School of Business
Hometown: Waukesha, Wis.
It’s a fact: Look carefully at her work: “My biggest thing is actually leaving tool marks in the final product. I like to leave evidence of the process,” she says.

Emily Mondloch and Aaron De Lanty didn’t intend to take up metalsmithing. Mondloch entered UWM as a marketing major, and De Lanty started in information technology management.

Then, both found themselves in an Introduction to Jewelry and Metalsmithing class, and they decided to forge a new path.

“That’s what hooked me, being able to manipulate things out of metal, because it’s this foreign, industrial thing that the consumer can’t touch. So I had that ‘aha’ moment: I can make stuff out of this,” says De Lanty, who has crafted everything from an MP3 radio to armbands to monster sculptures.

“Finding metalsmithing – that led to everything,” Mondloch says. “It changed my whole life and outlook. We literally can build anything we want, and that knowledge is incredible.”

Mondloch decided to add metalsmithing as a second major, while De Lanty switched completely. They were even more hooked once Frankie Flood, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Design, created the Digital Craft Research Lab.

“He’s honestly the best teacher I’ve ever had,” Mondloch says. “He will let you turn your idea into reality. Nothing is impossible to him – he wants to try everything.”

That infectious spirit infused a summer internship – funded by UWM’s Office of Undergraduate Research – with a multidisciplinary group of metalsmithing, graphic design and engineering students who worked together in the Digital Craft Research Lab.

UWM’s College of Health Sciences asked the group to design a more effective and attractive device to measure arm spasticity in physical therapy patients. The group created a new device using a stereo knob, inexpensive microprocessor and 3D-printed parts – and for a fraction of the cost of a commercially made product. “It looks really inviting and it actually works,” Mondloch says.

Of course, tackling such challenges wasn’t always a 9-to-5 task. It was not unusual for Mondloch, De Lanty and their classmates to still be in the lab at 3 a.m., puzzling over a design challenge or trying to get something just right. De Lanty recalls one stint in which he stayed inside the Kenilworth building, where the lab is located, for three days straight. Still, he has no regrets.

“Art school taught me to always be a learner,” he says. “And it gave me the confidence to say, ‘I don’t know how to do that, but I’m going to figure it out.’”

And that’s just what he and Mondloch will do when they start their post-graduation internship at Solaris, a local medical textile company. Solaris approached UWM looking for interns to help take its products and manufacturing processes to the next level, and Mondloch’s and De Lanty’s metalsmithing skills and creative problem-solving will be put to work as the company adds a facility that will allow it to create its own prototypes on site.

After the internship, De Lanty is contemplating getting his Ph.D. in Digital Fabrication so he can eventually teach. Meanwhile, Mondloch thinks she might like to stay in research and development at a company like Solaris. She’d love to help people like her cousin, who lost part of his leg and has yet to find a prosthetic that he really likes.

“I’d really like to get into something that honestly makes somebody’s life better every day,” she says. “That would be my dream job.”

Paying it forward through education

Kris Thomas
Degree: Doctorate in Urban Education with a major in Human Resource Development, School of Education
Hometown: Port Washington, Wis.
It’s a fact:  He keeps his guitar next to his desk for a stress reliever – he says his guitar skills greatly improved while he was a doctoral student.

Having a high school chemistry teacher for a father, Kris Thomas knew he wanted to follow in those footsteps. But he also knew his path would be a little different.

“I really wanted to teach adults,” he explains. “Adults are very purposeful in their learning, which makes it very direct and impactful. Most adults are really engaged. And for those who aren’t, it’s a fun challenge to figure out how to draw them in.”

After receiving his undergrad in English and Secondary Education, Thomas found a career in which he could achieve his goal of teaching adults – human resources. For the next 13 years, he served in many different HR and training roles. Not wanting to neglect his own education, he also completed his MBA during this time.

And then, he had a revelation.

“I didn’t want to be a jack of all trades, master of none,” Thomas explains. “I wanted to focus on the one thing that I like the most, which is developing people.” Recognizing the correlation between his education degree and experience in the workforce, he saw a clear path ahead.

“I had always wanted my Ph.D.,” he says. “I even told my wife on our first date that at some point I’d be going back to get a Ph.D.”

Though his next steps shocked many colleagues, it was all part of the master plan for Thomas.

He walked away from his successful job to pursue his Doctorate in Human Resource Development at UWM.

He spent the first year focusing full time on his studies. In the second year, he earned a graduate assistantship in the Department of Administrative Leadership, writing, researching and helping professors deliver online courses in D2L.

In 2010, he traveled to Shanghai for an Academy of Human Resource Development conference. “That experience opened my eyes to the possibilities in the academic world,” he says. “We all came from very different places, but we all faced the same issues.”

Throughout his diverse experiences at UWM, one thing struck Thomas the most.

“The degree of selflessness of the faculty,” he says. “They help people get to where they want to go, and that’s what they did for me. I want to pay it forward by doing the same for others.”

Before successfully defending his dissertation in the fall of 2013, Thomas was already putting his doctoral degree to use as a leadership development manager at MillerCoors – a perfect fit for him.

“MillerCoors is heavily invested in learning and development,” he explains. “In my role, I focus specifically on senior leadership. These are people running multimillion-dollar businesses – their training needs are different. I’m using what I learned through my graduate assistantship to create online courses that they can complete in a way that works for them.”

While many people would be content after achieving such success, Thomas isn’t done yet.

“I want to be a scholar practitioner,” he explains. “I love the corporate world, and I also want to keep a toe in the academic waters.”

One day, Thomas hopes to teach as an adjunct and make an impact in the academic world. And while education may be his way of paying it forward, it will certainly pay off big for all those he educates.