Father and daughter engineering students share graduation day

May 15, 2014

Karl Lauk recalls that at one time he had told his daughter Stephanie she might want to reconsider her plans to study electrical engineering in college.

He had been working in the semiconductor field for many years after earning an undergraduate degree in electronics engineering technology from the Oregon Institute of Technology in 1989. But as the economic recession hit several years ago, he was seeing business slow down in the electronics industries that had been keeping many electrical and electronics engineers employed. Karl and Stephanie Lauk Download Full Image

Karl had been thinking about retraining to earn qualifications for other types of jobs. At about that time, the medical device company he had worked with for 20 years outsourced his job.

So in 2010, a year after Stephanie began undergraduate studies at Arizona State University, Karl followed by enrolling at ASU to pursue a master’s degree.

Attracted by fun of engineering

Stephanie had decided not to heed her father’s warning. She chose to major in electrical engineering. Karl had decided that advanced education in the field was a surer path to a new job than starting over in another area.

Thus, the two Lauks were on the roster of students in the electrical engineering program in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Stephanie’s interest in the field had been stoked when she and a fellow Gilbert High School robotics team member competed in SkillsUSA events – winning a statewide robotics competition one year and placing seventh and third in national competitions in consecutive years. She had cofounded the school’s robotics team and served as its vice president.

Stephanie found electrical engineering to be her kind of fun: something complex and challenging that tested her mental acuity and her willpower.

While still in high school she did a summer internship at Foresight Technologies, an engineering and manufacturing company based in Tempe.

Her impressive academic record and achievement test scores in high school earned her support for tuition at ASU through the Arizona Board of Regent’s High Honors Tuition Scholarship (called the AIMS Scholarship).

Learning experiences

At ASU, she expanded her knowledge of robotics technology by contributing to a project to develop a miniature submarine for oceanographic and glacier studies in the Antarctic.

She gained expertise in communications technology and assisted in research exploring problems arising from the use of recycled electronic parts in new products.

One year she was one of only three ASU students accepted into the Korean University International Summer Campus, an academically intensive study-abroad program, where she studied the Korean language and game theory.

Karl had used his undergraduate engineering education to find fulfilling roles as a process and manufacturing engineer. He went back to school after two decades to build on those career experiences.

Among highlights of his ASU experience, he says, was getting to apply circuit principles he was learning in graduate courses directly to his work manufacturing electronic control devices used by law enforcement.

Seeing benefit of advanced degree

Once father and daughter were simultaneously ASU students, they soon found themselves spending more time together.

They carpooled to and from the family home in Gilbert to ASU’s Tempe campus and often ate lunch together. They shared experiences after long days going to classes, working on lab assignments and extracurricular projects, and doing research.

In the evenings, Stephanie would sometimes consult with her father when she needed help with a tough homework project.

The routine changed somewhat when at the end of 2010, as Karl was finishing a second semester of graduate studies, he was hired for a new job and had to continue studies on a part-time basis.

He took on a senior manufacturing engineer role for Scottsdale-based Taser International, an industry leader in personal safety technology.

For Karl, it was a payoff on the value of an advanced degree in engineering even before he had completed the program.

“When I interviewed for the job and was asked what I had been doing since leaving my previous job, I told them I was studying for a master’s degree at ASU,” he explains. ”I am certain that was a positive factor in the company’s considerations about hiring me.”

Interrupted progress led to ‘cool thing’

Had he been able to remain a full-time student, Karl would have been on track to complete the master’s degree program in two years, by 2012. But his progress was set back by more than just having to switch to taking classes part-time.

Karl, who had just turned 50, was preparing to take his final master’s of science in engineering exam in fall 2013 and graduate at the end of the semester, when his doctor discovered he had “a pretty serious heart murmur.”

He was soon undergoing heart valve repair surgery and a month-and-a-half -long recovery.

“I was really caught off-guard,” he says. “I had never been hospitalized for anything in my life up until then.”

The surgery was a success, and he was back in good health in time to complete his master’s degree final exam this semester.

The delays resulting from finding a new job and heart surgery, he says now, “did lead to a really cool thing, getting to graduate with my daughter. That has to be a rare event.”

Family’s ASU connection

Now the two new graduates will join Stephanie’s mother and Karl’s wife of 30 years, Wendy, as ASU alumni.

Wendy Lauk earned an education degree from ASU in 1998 with summa cum laude honors, and also won an outstanding student teacher award.

She has been teaching English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses in the Gilbert school district for more than 15 years, recently switching to teaching second-grade students.

In addition to what she learned in her education studies at ASU, Wendy had first-hand experience in understanding the needs of ESL students. English is Wendy’s second language. She immigrated to the United States from Korea when she was 14, and says she remembers how difficult it was to learn a new language and assimilate into a new culture.

The Lauks other daughter, Krystal, attended ASU as an art and English Literature major and now works as an art illustrator and designer for a California web-based advertising agency.

Daughter off to begin career

There will be little time after graduation ceremonies for the family to celebrate the father and daughter accomplishment. Only two days later Stephanie will move to Colorado to begin her first job as a professional engineer.

She will be a products testing engineer for a startup called Revolv. She’ll have a role in helping to refine the company’s new “universal smart home hub and app,” technology that enables users to connect and control all of a home’s automated devices and systems with a single app.

Stephanie says she intends to accumulate a significant number of years of industry experience before following in her father’s footsteps and returning to school to earn her own master’s degree.

She does, however, expect that she will best her father by achieving that goal much sooner than at age 51.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Display of determination: Graduate faced obstacles on way to degree

May 15, 2014

Marlynn Radford-Brown says she is “almost in a state of disbelief” about her life at the moment.

She is graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in construction management. She is interviewing for jobs with construction companies around the country, and she’s taking a closer look at the law schools to which she has been accepted. Marlynn Radford-Brown ASU graduate Download Full Image

A little more than five years ago, she was a single parent with a second child on the way when she was laid off from her job, and her mother had recently passed away.

“I was trying to deal with all of that and a lot of other stuff in my personal life. I was in shock,” she recalls.

“I knew I had a choice to make. I could have a pity party or I could use my frustration to push myself out of my situation,” she says.

Higher education delayed

Years earlier, Radford-Brown had detoured from potential career paths that her schooling had prepared her for.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she attended an elementary school known for its advanced academics, and followed up by graduating from a similarly high-caliber secondary school – the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science.

She comes from a large extended clan “with a lot of professionals.” There are doctors, lawyers, politicians and others in positions of leadership and influence. Radford-Brown says she started to go to college and follow the family tradition but she kept finding relatively good-paying full-time jobs, and the steady money lured her away from higher education.

In Philadelphia and in Arizona – where she had moved to be closer to her mother, who had retired in the Phoenix area – she performed production and account management services in advertising and marketing for several companies for almost 15 years.

But after her layoff in the middle of an economic recession, the outlook for finding well-paid similar positions was bleak. She saw more promising long-term prospects in pursuing a career in which she could build on her earlier training in technology and engineering: construction.

Changing course

Going to college would mean living in meager circumstances while raising two young sons. “I told myself if I was going to sacrifice for this, I was going to give it my best,” she says.

Radford-Brown has made good on her commitment. Her best has turned out to be extraordinary.

She enrolled at Mesa Community College (MCC) with her eye on fulfilling requirements that would gain her entry into ASU. While taking full course loads, she worked daytime hours as a teacher’s office assistant and at night for a state agency, assisting people living with mental disabilities to move from institutional care back into society.

“I carried my book bag with me constantly, and studied whenever I could find the time day or night,” she says.

In less than two years, she earned an associate’s degree in construction management from MCC and was admitted to ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College, and enrolled in the Del E. Webb School of Construction, a part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Full immersion in school

Soon after arriving at ASU, she began an internship with the Arizona Department of Transportation that she worked for two years – with a three-month hiatus to do a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

Radford-Brown’s academic performance earned her scholarship support through the Fulton Schools of Engineering and Barrett, The Honors College, as well as scholarships from the Associated General Contractors Foundation, the Ames Memorial Foundation, the Sandra L. Weber Memorial Scholar and Wellsgate International Distinguished Scholar programs and the Leadership Society of America.

While taking classes and working internships, she also was a member of Sigma Lambda Chi, the international construction honors society, ASU’s Advancing Women in Construction mentorship program, the student chapter of the American Concrete Institute, and served on the student advisory board for the Del E. Webb School.

She accomplished it all “by basically giving up sleep,” she says.

Support from her peers

She also gives a lot of credit to professors and fellow students.

“The Del E. Webb School has such a team-oriented, community atmosphere. Everyone supports each other,” Radford-Brown says.

“I had times when I thought I was going to lose my mind from lack of sleep or not having enough time to study, or times that I doubted the quality of my work,” she explains. “But the faculty and other students kept me going and coming back to school every day. I don’t think would have survived without them.”

Her studies focused on heavy/civil construction management. The field typically involves big-budget, long-term public infrastructure projects such as bridges, tunnels, highways and similar projects requiring major excavation and other earthwork.

Radford-Brown spent time during the weeks before graduation talking to some “very big” construction companies about employment. But her sights are also set on where she sees herself beyond the first job in the industry.

Big plans for the future

She hopes to able to earn a law degree while working in construction management. She’s interested in litigation related to the construction and engineering industries, as well as contract law and related aspects of the fields.

“It may take me four or more years to get a law degree while working in construction, but I really want to accomplish something on the legal and business side of the industry,” she says.

Plans also include continuing to raise her sons, 9-year-old Quantum and 5-year-old Avatar. “I gave my sons powerful names so they would have something bold and challenging to live up to,” she explains.

But maybe all they will need for an example of persistence and determination to live up to is their mother.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering