Michigan Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Academy Inducts Class of 2021

R.L. Smith Building, Michigan Technological University

05/14/2021—Michigan Technological University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (ME-EM) held its 2021 ME-EM Academy induction ceremony May 14 via Zoom.

Eleven ME-EM alumni were welcomed into the academy by JS Endowed Department Chair William W. Predebon. 

“This year’s inductees have made a significant impact in their professions,” said Predebon. “They include alumni who have risen to the top levels of major corporations, professional societies and universities, and those who are successful entrepreneurs.”

Portraits and brief biographies of academy members are prominently displayed in the R. L. Smith ME-EM Building to serve as inspiration for future students.

The full ME-EM Academy now includes 88 members — less than 1 percent of all ME-EM alumni. 

“They indeed honor us through their accomplishments,” said Predebon. “It’s a fantastic leadership group.”

The Class of 2021 ME-EM Academy inductees are:

Brett R. Chouinard, BSME 1988
President and Chief Operating Officer — Altair Engineering Inc.

Brett R. Chouinard

As president and chief operating officer of Altair Engineering, Chouinard is responsible for worldwide sales, consulting, and field operations in 25 countries. His team supports users across diverse industries, including automotive, aerospace, electronics, defense, banking, and financial services.  

During his time at Altair, the company has become a market leader in the areas of physics-based simulation, high performance computing, optimization, and machine learning. Chouinard was a senior member of the executive team that executed Altair’s successful IPO in 2017. 

He began his career at General Electric Aircraft Engines as a structural engineer on the GE90 high bypass commercial engine program—at the time, the largest commercial aircraft engine in the world. 

Chouinard is a member of the ME-EM External Advisory Board, and supports STEM education in the community as a trustee of the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum and Leslie Science and Nature Center. 

M. Margaret Cobb, BSME 1983
President — The Cobb Foundation, NW

M. Margaret Cobb

Early in her career after earning her degree at Michigan Tech, Cobb worked as a mechanical engineer in a number of industries: Wisconsin Electric Power and Snohomish County PUD; the Boeing Company, Sundstrand Data Control, then Microsoft and Apple.

During her 20-plus years at Microsoft, Cobb worked on Windows, Xbox, and PC design in a variety of leadership roles. She led a multi-billion-dollar technical sales/engineering team responsible for designing, engineering and producing PCs worldwide, and received Microsoft’s annual Circle of Excellence award for her exceptional work with independent software vendors. 

As a recipient of Michigan Tech’s Board of Control scholarship, Cobb has made it a career mission to give back to the community, serving on the board of directors for numerous organizations including The Epilepsy Foundation Northwest, and Minds Matter Seattle—a non-profit dedicated to helping low-income high school students get into college. 

Cobb and her family established The Cobb Foundation Northwest, dedicated to helping low-income students to ensure all have access to life-changing educational experiences not provided by public schools, including music lessons, book clubs, athletic lessons, robotic workshops, and more.

Juan Dalla Rizza, PE, BSME 1971
President & Principal Engineer — Dalla-Rizza & Associates Consulting Engineers, Inc.

Juan Dalla Rizza

Dalla Rizza was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the United States in 1962, as part of the Catholic Relief Program known as Peter Pan. He grew up in Marquette, Michigan.

After earning his degree at Michigan Tech, Dalla Rizza moved to Miami in order to be closer to family members. He started work for H.J. Ross, a consulting engineering firm. In 1978 he obtained registration as a Professional Engineer. A few years later, he started his own firm.

Dalla Rizza & Associates today is a Miami-based engineering firm serving the commercial construction industry, involved in engineering projects throughout Florida and the Southeast. Projects include The Biltmore Hotel and Convention Center, and The Colonnade Complex (both in Coral Gables), The Freedom Tower in Miami, and The King and Prince Hotel Complex, Phase I, II, III in St. Simons Island, Georgia. Rizza’s firm offers engineering services to large management companies, as well, based on a solid relationship that spans many years. 

Dr. Kimberly L. Foster, BSME 1994
Dean, School of Science & Engineering — Tulane University 

Kimberly L. Foster

Foster was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but spent her formative years growing up in Houghton, Michigan. While earning her BSME degree at Michigan Tech, she worked as a research assistant in the lab of MSE professor Walt Milligan, and as a tutor in the Mechanics Learning Center, where she realized how much she enjoyed teaching. 

Foster continued her education at Cornell, earning a PhD in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics, becoming fascinated by microelectromechanical systems. From there she headed to UC Santa Barbara, where she became full professor and chair of her department. In 2018 Foster became Dean of the School of Science & Engineering at Tulane University.

Foster is active in her professional community as a member of the Transducer Research Foundation, and fellow of ASME. She holds 12 US patents. She is married to John Foster, a physicist turned serial entrepreneur. Their co-inventions led to the development of Owl Biomedical, an exclusive cell sorting MEMS technology for cell therapy, cancer diagnostics and basic research.

Pamela Rogers Klyn, BSME 1993
Senior Vice President, Global Product Organization — Whirlpool Corporation

Pamela Rogers Klyn

Klyn joined Whirlpool soon after graduating from MIchigan Tech, with advancing roles in engineering, product development, global innovation, and marketing. She now leads all of the Washer, Dryer and Commercial Laundry platforms globally.

As the first female technology director for Whirlpool Corporation, Klyn is passionate about mentoring other women at the company, providing them with the tools, confidence and encouragement to pursue roles at the highest levels of the organization.

Klyn serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor, Michigan, and as co-leader of the Whirlpool United Way Campaign in support of her local community. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for Patrick Industries, a publicly traded company serving the RV, Marine, and Industrial and Manufactured Housing industries.

Klyn earned an MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and an Executive MBA from Bowling Green State University. She serves as a member of Michigan Tech’s ME-EM External Advisory Board and also serves on Michigan Tech’s College of Engineering External Advisory Board.

Karl E. LaPeer, BSME 1985
Partner — Peninsula Capital Partners, LLC 

Karl E. LaPeer

LaPeer is a partner at Peninsula Capital Partners, LLC, a Detroit-based $1.9 billion private equity firm. In 1995 LaPeer and his partners began with $20 million in capital and they have since invested over $1.5 billion in more than 140 small and mid-sized companies with operations in North America and throughout the world.

LaPeer began his career at Fanuc Robotics serving in engineering and operations roles both in the U.S. and Europe, then earned an MBA from the University of Michigan. He has served on dozens of small business boards of directors, helping these businesses succeed. He is an ordained pastor and evangelist.

LaPeer met his wife, Christine (BSMT, 1985) on their second day of classes at Michigan Tech. Together they were recipients of the 2019 Michigan Tech Humanitarian Award. 

The LaPeer family volunteers around the world. They have opened four orphanages in India, installed water wells and large water purification systems in Peru, Nicaragua, and Ghana, served in medical clinics and provided humanitarian aid in Central and South America, and served as leaders of missions teams large and small. 

Robert S. Messina, BSME 1993
Senior Vice President, Global Product Development and Product Management — JLG Industries, Inc.

Robert S. Messina

At JLG Industries, Oshkosh Corporation’s Access Equipment segment, Messina is responsible for a team of engineers and product strategists in R&D facilities located in North America, Europe, China and India. His team develops world class mobile elevating work platforms, telescopic material handlers and towing and recovery equipment, focused on bringing operators home safely from work each day.  

Messina has served in various leadership roles across Oshkosh, including technology development in electrification, mobility systems, autonomy, active safety and connected products. During his tenure in Oshkosh Defense, he was instrumental in multiple strategic programs.

Messina sponsors STEM-related activities to foster tomorrow’s engineering community. He serves on the Oshkosh Corporation Foundation, the Oshkosh Venture Capital Investment Committee, and the advisory board for Construction Robotics.

Messina started his career at Chrysler soon after graduating from Michigan Tech, with roles in the design, development, and calibration of rear-wheel drive automatic transmissions and torque converters, including launching new production facilities. He earned an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Oakland University.

Douglas L. Parks, BSME 1984
Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing & Supply Chain — General Motors Company

Douglas L. Parks

Parks began his career with GM as a tooling engineer soon upon graduation from Michigan Tech. He earned an MBA from the University of Michigan through the GM Fellowship Program.

Parks has served in numerous positions at GM. As Global Chief Engineer for Electric Cars, he was in charge of the Chevy Volt, among others. He was also Global Vehicle Chief Engineer for GM’s compact vehicles. 

As GM’s Vice President of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs, Parks launched Super Cruise, the industry’s first hands-free driving technology for compatible highways on the 2018 Cadillac CT6. He was the leader of several engineering teams at GM that achieved major milestones in a few years’ time: one was the team for the Cruise AV, a production-intent autonomous vehicle built from the ground up. Without driver controls, it has all the hardware necessary to operate safely on its own. Another team led by Parks produced three self-driving test vehicle generations in approximately 16 months. Yet another developed GM’s all-new electric vehicle architecture, increasing the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV’s range to 259 miles per gallon with improvements in battery chemistry.

Gordon W. Renn, BSME 1982
President, CEO & Chairman — Fox Converting, Inc. and Accuracy Machine, LLC / Chairman – Loyality, Inc.

Gordon W. Renn

Renn is an entrepreneur who has made a career of pursuing and developing higher risk opportunities. Agile and effective loss control management is one of his key strengths.

He is a multiple small business owner. One of his companies, Fox Converting, Inc. manufactures FDA Class II Medical Devices, certified safe quality food packaging, and antiviral coated paper for consumer products. Another, Accuracy Pharmaceutical Machine, LLC, manufactures ultra clean, ultra-precise tooling for the pharmaceutical industry, to assist the industry to ultimately produce cures beyond conventional treatments. Loyality, Inc. affordably and effectively delivers sophisticated IT solutions typically beyond the budget of small and medium sized businesses. It also assists in large, enterprise company niches.

Renn has served higher education as a board member, donor, advisor, consultant and speaker at Michigan Tech and the University of Wisconsin Platteville. His community leadership is centered on youth organizations, including a Christian shelter serving homeless children and their families, a favorite of Renn’s for over 30 years. 

Renn enjoys time with his family, the great outdoors, a dog that regularly rescues him, and working with great people pursuing excellence. Renn credits his loving parents for guiding him to engineering and Michigan Tech. 

Dr. Sheryl A. Sorby, MSEM 1986, PhD ME-EM 1991

Sheryl A. Sorby

Professor of Engineering Education — University of Cincinnati / President of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)

Sorby graduated from Hastings High School in downstate Michigan, but spent every summer in the Upper Peninsula with her family. Just a few hours away was Michigan Tech, where Sorby earned a BS in Civil Engineering, an MS in Engineering Mechanics, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

Sorby became a longtime faculty member at Michigan Tech: associate dean of engineering for academic programs and founding chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals, responsible for the development and delivery of the first-year engineering program, a legacy effort that remains in support of first-year engineering students to this day. 

At the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, Sorby served as program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education and then became a Fulbright Scholar, conducting research at the Dublin Institute of Technology. 

In 1993 Sorby received her first grant to develop a course for helping engineering students develop their 3-D spatial skills—the abilities to translate 2-D objects to 3-D and to mentally rotate 3-D objects. She has received numerous follow-up grants to further this work, over $13 million. To advance spatial research and training worldwide, Sorby founded the nonprofit Higher Education Services (HES), an educational consulting firm.

Sorby is current President of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). She is a Fellow of ASEE, and also received the Society’s Sharon Keillor award as an outstanding female engineering educator. In 2005 she received the Betty Vetter award for Research on Women in Engineering through the Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network (WEPAN) for her work in improving the 3-D spatial skills of engineering students. She has published more than 150 papers in journals and conference proceedings and is the author of seven textbooks.

Christopher K. Yakes, BSME 1995
Vice President, Global Engineering — Oshkosh Corporation

Christopher K. Yakes

At Oshkosh Corporation, Yakes designs and manufactures products that build, serve and protect communities around the world. 

He is responsible for matrix teams that support the company with wide subject matter expertise in advanced controls, data analytics, telematics, autonomy and active safety, advanced suspensions, powertrains, material and processes, and numerous other advanced efforts, tools and techniques. 

Yakes holds 29 patents related to hybrid systems, autonomous vehicles, vehicle architectures and components. He was part of the Oshkosh team awarded the SAE/Magnus Hendrickson Innovation Award in 2018.

Yakes led the development and capture efforts of various key production and research programs: MRAP All-terrain Vehicles (MATV), Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), various DARPA activities, the Oshkosh® TerraMax™ unmanned ground vehicle system, a variety of Department of Defense and Department of Energy Research and Development programs, and most recently was instrumental in providing strategic direction on the USPS Next Generation Delivery Vehicle.

Prior to his work at Oshkosh Corporation, he was a component development engineer for various engines and their components at Detroit Diesel Corporation.

Yakes was instrumental in the implementation of the STEM program at Oshkosh, actively involved with mentoring the next generation of engineers and problem solvers within Oshkosh.


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