Endowment for UA Engineering Graduate Students Bucks National Trend

With support from alumni, including a veteran leader in the mining industry, the UA College of Engineering establishes the NextGen Fund for U.S. graduate students to keep the nation globally competitive.

Returning to the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona for a PhD was the best investment M. Stephen Enders ever made.

“My life changed entirely after I got my PhD from the UA in 2000,” said Enders, an economic geologist who headed worldwide exploration for Phelps Dodge and Newmont Mining, two of the world’s biggest mining companies, before becoming interim head of the department of geology and geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

Enders is working with the UA College of Engineering to grow the Next Generation of Engineering Professionals Endowment, or NextGen Fund, which will help more domestic students earn graduate engineering degrees at the University of Arizona.

The endowment fund has received a gift of $25,000 from David and Semele Heller to support scholarships and fellowships and aims to raise at least $10 million. Heller, who earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the UA, is a senior engineering manager at Apple.

Filling a Need

As federal financial support for graduate students in science and engineering declines -- accounting for only 17 percent of funding in 2013, the lowest level since 1998 -- so too does the number of domestic students in those fields. At the same time, international students studying science and engineering at U.S. institutions are on the rise, according to national studies. 

“Yet graduate degrees, particularly doctorates, are becoming increasingly important for engineers to advance professionally in both industry and academia,” said Jeff Goldberg, dean of the College of Engineering, where graduate student enrollment is growing and 68 percent of the graduate students are international.

From Oil Field Roustabout to Company President

After graduating high school in Ohio, Enders worked as an oil field roustabout one summer while attending the Colorado School of Mines, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in geological engineering in 1976. He spent a few years working as a uranium exploration geologist throughout the western United States. When the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island sent the uranium commodities market into free-fall, he went back to school to retool.

With a master’s degree in geological engineering from the UA, Enders rode the wave of high gold prices, rising through the ranks at Pegasus Gold Corp., Galactic Resources Ltd. and, for 14 years, Phelps Dodge Mining Co., now part of Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

“The master’s degree was a great educational experience that gave me the tools, knowledge and experience to advance my career,” he said. “But as I moved into managerial positions in exploration at Phelps Dodge, my managerial duties were keeping me from the excitement of hands-on site work. I grew fascinated by the geology of the Morenci copper deposit where I was working and just wanted to learn more.”

Nearly 16 years after earning his master’s degree, he returned to the UA for a PhD in geosciences, then headed up Freeport-McMoRan’s exploration division before joining Newmont Mining in 2003 as vice president and later senior vice president for worldwide exploration.

“My PhD opened up a whole new world -- from my global professional connections to the respect I received for earning this top academic degree -- and led directly to my promotions to vice president and president,” said Enders, who co-founded the UA Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources and several exploration and mining firms.

PhD Yields Startup and Patents for Materials Science Engineer

After earning a BS in chemistry from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1990, John Lombardi worked at Norton/TRW Ceramics in Massachusetts. There, staff members familiar with the UA materials science and engineering faculty encouraged him to attend the UA for graduate study.

With then professor Paul Calvert as his adviser, Lombardi gained direct experience with rapid prototyping and 3-D printing materials development and earned his MS and PhD in materials science and engineering, or MSE, in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

The research experience and PhD in particular have served him well as an inventor, researcher and entrepreneur, said the president and CEO of Ventana Research Corp., the Tucson-based company he launched in 2001.

“Much of my materials development research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and Department of Agriculture," Lombardi said. “My doctorate has been a big advantage in being named principal investigator on these projects. If you want to perform materials science engineering research and serve on government-funded research efforts, a doctorate would seem to me a minimum requirement.”

He added, “For some of my patent applications, I needed to argue technical aspects of a particular invention for patent examiners. I have included my educational background in these declarations to bolster my arguments.”


For more information about the NextGen Fund, contact Mike McKelvey, senior director of development, at 520.621.7685 or mikem1@email.arizona.edu.

Top picture: Steve Enders’ PhD in geosciences has taken him to the pinnacle of success in mining and the far reaches of the globe, including Jinchang, China, where he is pictured standing in front of a mine and processing plant.