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Engineering doctorate opens new paths, opportunities for grad


May 10, 2011

After almost 25 years of education, Larry Mickelson is ready to transition to a new phase in his life.

As he graduates with a 4.0 GPA and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering this spring, the 29-year-old says “I’ve been taking classes since I was 5. I’ve learned a lot and worked extremely hard. Graduation is the close of a long and important part of my life and the beginning of a new era.”

Mickelson has experienced a string of successes and a few challenges during his graduate studies.

As an undergraduate at ASU he received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for scientific research.  As a graduate student he was awarded a Science Foundation of Arizona (SFAz) Fellowship and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP).

Dissertation research was conducted on two electrochemical systems, both of which have potential for alternative energy sources, including improving the life of lithium-ion batteries and the commercialization of fuel cells.

In 2010 he was one of a select few students internationally to be awarded an opportunity to travel to Lindau, Germany to meet with Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, Physics and Medicine.  Hearing their talks and lunching with them in small group settings “I came to know what it takes to be a world-class scientist, but I also came to know how these men and women are just people like you and me.”

“Being invited to attend the Lindau Conference is what I’m most proud of academically,” he says, “but I’m also very proud of the fact that I have made it through graduate school without putting my family life on hold.” His wife gave birth to two sons during his doctoral studies and is now pregnant with their third child.

Mickelson credits his wife and a happy marriage with getting him through his lowest point in his studies. His research wasn’t yielding satisfactory results and he failed an exam. “I failed really bad, getting something like 20 percent on the test,” he says. “I wanted to quit at that point.  After a good deal of talking and encouragement from my wife and a good deal of prayer I decided to stay the course and finish my Ph.D.”

At the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering convocation, Mickelson will have at least two dozen family members cheering him on, including wife and sons, parents, in-laws, all nine of his brothers and sisters with their spouses, all of his wife’s siblings and their spouses, and all his nieces and nephews.

Then he will have the task of selecting one of several job offers from major scientific firms. “I’m ready to transition from poor, starving college student to amiable and affluent engineer.”