Meet Your 2018 Alumni Reunion Challengers

In Alumni Spotlight, In the Headlines, News

Engineering Alumni Reunion Challenge

October 16 – November 10, 2018

When the UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering selected funding for STEPUP (the Successful Transition and Enhanced Preparation for Undergraduates Program) as a focus of the 2018 Alumni Reunion, they wanted to find a Challenge Champion to inspire everyone to support this important program that is celebrating its 25th anniversary. They didn’t have to search far, as Gene Fraser (B.S., CHE ’76) stepped up with a proposal that he and another engineering alumnus, Michael “Mike” Zamora (Ph.D. MSE ’97), would offer to match the total funds alumni contributed for STEPUP in the 25 days before the Reunion, up to $25,000.

A graduate of the Naval Test Pilot School, Gene Fraser served more than 27 years in key leadership positions on government programs in the U.S. Marine Corps, including command of an F/A-18 Fighter Strike Squadron. His final duty assignment was as the commanding officer of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Test Wing. For the past 15 years, Mr. Fraser has worked for the Northrop Grumman Corporation, where he currently serves as Vice President of Programs, Quality and Engineering. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company, providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.

Mike Zamora is the Americas regional director of manufacturing at ExxonMobil Chemical Company, where he is responsible for manufacturing operations in the Americas. Zamora received his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering from the University of Florida in 1997. After graduating, he was hired by the ExxonMobil Chemical Company (EMCC) in 1998 as a product development engineer. Assuming ever-increasing responsibilities, Zamora was appointed vice president, Basic Chemicals, at EMCC in 2011. In 2014, he joined ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company as global optimization manager; then he returned to ExxonMobil Chemical Company in early 2017 to assume his current position.

Zamora became the second STEPUP challenger – he believes in the program’s mission and in giving students an opportunity that they may otherwise not have if not for the support and guidance through the STEPUP Program.  His strong commitment is evident through his involvement with the ExxonMobil STEPUP Endowment, which the company created to support the program.  Zamora hopes to lead other ExxonMobil employees in giving back in a meaningful way while taking advantage of the company’s generous 3:1 matching program for charitable donations.

Q&A with Gene and Mike:
What is your favorite memory of your time as an engineering student at UF? 
GENE: My favorite memory as a Gator student engineer is of the faculty and staff across the college of engineering and especially in Chemical Engineering.  Every member seemed to take a true interest in my success.  Each instructor had a friendly manner as they challenged us to gain an ever-deepening understanding of the material.  They celebrated our successes with us; and, when needed, they helped pull us through the rough patches.  
MIKE: As a graduate student, my times connecting with my fellow students, professors and advisors are my best memories of being at UF. The academic environment was challenging and collaborative. The faculty – especially Dr. Tony Brennan (Professor of Materials Science Engineering and Biomedical Engineering) – were terrific and were always open to the shared experiences that everyone brought to the table.
How did your engineering studies influence your career?

GENE: The Chemical Engineering field touches so many areas of study in a full range of scales, from atomic particles to full-scale systems. In our ChemE studies at UF, we were encouraged to hone our skills as critical thinkers, to reduce problems to basic elements, and to constantly back-check our work. These are the skills needed for a successful leader in any technology field! For example, the design, development and evaluation process is identical; while the constraints vary, the physics of fluid flow is identical; and, of course, Newtonian and non-Newtonian mechanics don’t change. I would say that studying Chemical Engineering gave me a leg up as a pilot, test pilot, and in leading various technology organizations, from outer space to undersea!  

MIKE: My interactions with my professors and with my department influenced my perspective on the field.  The multi-disciplinary environment that exists at UF and in the Material Science and Engineering Department, as well as the Chemical Engineering Department, is a great example of why UF continues to produce excellent students and rise in university rankings and reputation.  A multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving is the most successful and is what I see every day at ExxonMobil.  That approach with different teams and people working together is exactly what we look for when it comes to excellence in industry.

Would the STEPUP program have benefited you as an incoming freshman engineering student?

GENE: Economics demanded that I enter my post high school studies through the junior college system. I probably needed the transition. Sounds like STEPUP would have helped me! I also saw many in my classes who wanted to go into engineering but were ill prepared for the basic classes. These students, challenged by the rigorous curriculum, try as they might, were soon discouraged and dropped out of the STEM courses. The STEPUP program would have been of help to them.

MIKE: STEPUP does a wonderful job at leveling the playing field for all students who participate in the program. It creates an environment for success for students who might otherwise be at a disadvantage and might not succeed.  The networks you build early on in your academic career are a big factor in determining success.  STEPUP gives students the tools to be successful and helps set the stage for what to expect both in the classroom and beyond. 

What influenced you to be a “challenger” in the 2018 Alumni Reunion STEPUP challenge?

GENE: Dean Abernathy was a big influence, but Development Officer Mike Masem introduced me to the program. In discussing the program with him, I saw STEPUP as the perfect fit for many of my goals. I have been evaluating ways “to pay it forward” for all the help I received on my career’s journey. When I learned about the idea of an Alumni Reunion challenge, I moved quickly! I am honored to help. 

My goals to help my alma mater are based in three areas:

1. Helping motivated students from challenged backgrounds, especially diverse ones, from both urban and rural areas, who need help finding a way into the STEM field. The STEPUP program obviously meets this goal.
2. Economic development of the state of Florida. It may not seem obvious, yet we know elevating just one family member can have a cascading effect on the community. STEPUP is an enormous long-term lever for making a positive economic impact.  
3. Concern for the critical shortage of engineers facing our country. Clearly, this is an issue of national security and economic viability for the United States.

MIKE: My passion for helping students is what drove me to help in this way. 

What would you say to engineering alumni about donating to the STEPUP challenge?

GENE: For those of us who have had some success in life, having accumulated resources, STEPUP is one of the most assured ways to contribute to society in a very meaningful manner.  The STEPUP program can foster real improvement in the lives of students, their families, and their communities.

MIKE: Donations to the college in general and to its programs are great, but donating to the STEPUP program is a way to see tangible and immediate results for students. Assimilation into a college is difficult for students, and it is especially difficult in the discipline of engineering. The program has a direct impact on the ability of its students to be successful. Giving to STEPUP is one of the most effective ways to make a difference.