Alumni Q+A: Kati Horner Gonzalez

Full Name: Kati Horner Gonzalez
Job Title: City Engineer
Employer: City of Independence, MO
Graduation Year: 2010
Degree: BS Civil Engineering
Current City: Independence, MO
Hometown: Independence, MO

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?
My involvement with APWA gave me access to the Kansas City engineering community. By making these connections, I was able to get year-round internships throughout school; the knowledge and experience I gained through these internships provided opportunities to get job offers during the recession. Since then, the relationships I built through the UMKC APWA Student Chapter have continued to propel my career.

What is something that you wish was available to you as a student that current students at UMKC have access to?
A civil engineering-specific CAD course that does autocad AND microstation. Courses that teach the use of modeling software (inroads, geopak, civil 3D). More transportation/traffic/transit engineering classes. Surveying! (Not sure if those are offered now, but they should be.)

What project have you worked on that you are the most proud of?
KC Streetcar

What drew you to Engineering?
It’s genetic.

What do you love about the Engineering Community in Kansas City?
The community embraces the ability to share knowledge throughout the region. There are lots of great opportunities.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?
Get internships! Organizational involvement should be for more than more than just the competitions – be involved to make connections and capitalize on those connections. Getting experience on both the public and private sides is invaluable.

Alumni Q+A: KK Kailasam

Full Name: KK Kailasam
Job Title: VP, Engineering Fellow
Employer: Cerner
Graduation Year: 1992
Degree: MS Computer Science
Current City: Kansas City, KS (Work); Olathe (Home)
Hometown: Originally from Chennai, India; living in Olathe, KS

Tell me about an average day at your job.
I lead a team of talented software engineers in Cerner’s decision support organization designing and implementing solutions that provide cross-venue care. Our solution suite includes data transformation services, clinical ontologies, and software agents to implement Cerner Math developed models that predict outcomes. The transformation services handle large volumes of data in a big data environment, and process unstructured clinical documentation using natural language processing techniques. The ontology services enable specification of a clinical program in a consistent and standards-based approach. The software agents use the data transformation services and clinical ontologies to execute mathematical models and predict outcomes such as hospital readmissions, risk of suicide etc.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?
One aspect that I remember very well to this day, is the faculty’s interest in staying connected with the industry. The assignments and projects often simulated real-world situations. And several decades later, as a member of the advisory committee, I see the same enthusiasm and excitement among the faculty. The committee is represented by leaders from many different industries and there is always a good dialog in terms of the types of courses and projects that will help prepare students to connect theory with practice.

How did you decide what area you wanted to work in?
In all honesty, I was lucky. In the early 1990s, the hype was mostly around networking and telecommunications. The only certainty was my interest in developing application software. It was after joining Cerner that I learned the potential for software in the field of health care. It started with solutions related to digitizing records and assisting care providers with timely interventions. And the journey continues. If you are trying to decide, the intersection of Heath Care and Information Technology is a great place. The complexity and hence the challenges are significant. There is a sense of personal satisfaction in this area. Whether it is about making it safer or more efficient or using data to derive new knowledge, the opportunities are plenty.

How do you keep up with the rapidly changing field of technology?
Early in my career I learned from my leadership about the importance of continuously expanding one’s boundaries. I follow many great minds on Twitter to learn what they are reading and talking about. Colleges like Stanford offer many courses online; I take them, especially the ones without a timeline.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?
1) Learn to write code and continue to improve upon it.
2) Learn to write code in more than one language.
3) The real world is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary in nature. Take classes from other areas like Math, Linguistics, Biology etc.

Alumni Q+A: Vickie Johnson

Full Name: Vickie Johnson
Job Title: Program Supplier Quality Engineer
Employer: Raytheon Missile Systems
Graduation Year: 1987
Degree: BS Electrical Engineering
Current City: Tucson, AZ
Hometown: Carthage, MS
What initially attracted you to UMKC? 
After getting married during my junior year in college, we moved from Mississippi to Kansas City to find work.  I found work at Bendix as a lab technologist and immediately started the process of getting back into school. UMKC’s engineering school was very accessible and the engineering program was exactly what I needed. UMKC personnel made it very easy for me to get back into school. Everyone was so helpful, including my employer.

What is something that you wish was available to you as a student that current students at UMKC have access to? 
As a student who worked full time, I would often wish that I could join study groups. A semi-formal program for establishing study groups would be very helpful to all students but especially for non-traditional students. Today’s technology and social media makes it easier but safety for students is a concern, so it would be great if UMKC could lead and develop this type of program.
What drew you to Engineering?
Coming from a small town in Mississippi, I had no idea what an engineer was, but I loved math.  A math professor at Jackson State University told me about the Pre-engineering program which I joined.  This program was to study for two years at Jackson State and transfer to an engineering school to complete the remaining three years. Once I began taking electrical engineering courses, I was hooked.   
How has the field of engineering changed since you started working?
It’s changed tremendously. With the advent of powerful processors and the exponential computer technology, it has changed immeasurably.  I started with programming on cards using FORTRAN and a huge computer that filled a room. Imagine that!  Speaking of imagination – not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the world of engineering as it is today! Knowledge is all around us.  The challenge will be to harness and use this knowledge appropriately and at the right time.  Ethics and morality have become much more important than when I started working as an engineer. As well as a lot more things, i.e. environmental protection, information classifications, how you write and say things, just to name a few. Most of the things impacting the field of engineering have nothing to do with the actual ‘art’ of engineering. Therefore, today’s students must do a balancing act to take it all in.  Programs to help today’s engineering students cope with stress are much needed in today’s engineering environments.
What advice do you have for students entering the field?
I would advise them to stay in school about two to three years longer after achieving their Bachelor’s degree.  Study for and achieve an engineering Master’s degree as well as a minor is an area that impacts engineering (psychology, ethics, human resources, environmental health, math, etc.) or even a juris doctorate degree.  Because once you hit the working world, the career trajectory may not bend easily around additional schooling plans.  Do this while you are young and have the time and the energy.  And remember these things: 1) treat everyone fairly – no matter who they are, 2) always be honest, 3) be firm – but kind, 4) ‘change’ is a constant, so get used to it & learn to love it and, 5) never mistreat or take advantage of anyone because karma is real.  And always remember to enjoy the journey!

Alumni Q+A: Kiran Chelluri

Kiran Chelluri
President, Chelsoft Solutions Co.
Class of 2001
Current City: Olathe, KS  Hometown: Hyderabad, India

What initially attracted you to UMKC?
At the time of my application, I already had family calling Kansas City home. However, it was the smaller campus that ultimately attracted me to UMKC. I enjoyed the balance of a big city with a smaller campus community.

Tell us about an average day at your job:
As the President of Chelsoft Solutions Co., a leading information technology consulting firm headquartered here in Kansas City, I wear many hats on most days. I deal with leadership issues and strategic visioning, marketing and sales, client and vendor management, and organizational growth.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?
My Masters of Science in Computer Science set up the foundation for my career. UMKC has a curriculum that matches with what the industry wants to see in graduates. I launched my career working for the Sprint Corporation. Their headquarters in the Kansas City metropolitan area allows for a lot of hiring opportunities for graduates. However, as the recession hit, Sprint Co. went through a period of layoffs that included me. This was the opportunity that really helped my career take off. I took it as my chance to start my own business.

What drew you to Computer Science?  
Computer Science has so much that is still unexplored and yet to be invented.  The field is always evolving and really encompasses all that is our future.  I like to be associated with cutting edge technologies. It gives me great pride to know that my work is part of building the innovations that will define the next ten, twenty, thirty, etc. years.

How do you keep up with the rapidly changing field of technology?  
I read lots of magazines, subscribe to newsletters, and associate with technology groups. To stay up to date with Kansas City and general business news I follow Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Success Magazine, Fortune, and Ingrams.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?
Be passionate about what you are learning. Technology is still in infancy. Question the status quo and try to be creative and do new things. There are so many problems that can be solved.  Find your niche and most importantly, take action.

Alumni Q+A: Thomas Kimes

Thomas Kimes
Senior Stormwater Engineer, Water Services Department, City of Kansas City, Missouri
Class of 1987
Current City: Kansas City, MO Hometown: Kansas City, MO

Tell me about an average day at your job.

My work is highly varied. Sometimes I am a designer and sometimes I am leading a project team. I may be visiting sites to formulate projects or visiting a construction project to evaluate progress. Occasionally, I travel to Washington, D.C. to advocate for water resources infrastructure.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?

One of the greatest benefits of attending UMKC was the opportunity to interact with people who were already working in the field. Whether it be my fellow students or my instructors, they typically could give examples or share experiences they had on actual projects. It prepared me to understand the reality of the profession I would be entering.

What project have you worked on of which you are most proud?

I’ve had the opportunity to work on many of the projects that help shape Kansas City – the Kansas City Streetcar, the Liberty Memorial Museum, Blue River Flood Control, and Brush Creek Flood Control. I’ve been very fortunate.

What drew you to Engineering?

When I was in junior high school, a group of college students did a presentation on engineering. It made a lasting impact.

How did you decide what area you wanted to work in?

My original interest was in environmental engineering. My second job was for the Corps of Engineers, so I developed an interest in waterways.

What societies and groups are you a part of and how do you feel that they have helped you professionally?

I’ve been a member of the Alumni Association for years and I feel it’s important for practitioners to reach out to students.

What do you love about the engineering community in Kansas City?

Being a center for engineering, there is a lot of career opportunities locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people who are at the top of their field.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?

Engineering is not a job – it’s a career you build over time. You start with your education, but continue learning and growing for decades. Every day is an opportunity to learn something, to discover something, to develop an idea, and an opportunity to contribute something positive to the world. Your work will directly impact people’s lives. Engineering is a noble profession.

Alumni Q+A: Sean Eisler

Sean O’Neill Eisler
Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Inc.
Class of 1993
Current City: Parkville, Missouri  Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Find me on Twitter! @seaneisler

What is something that you wish was available to you as a student that current students at UMKC have access to?  

The access to technology and the information it unlocks was not available when I was at UMKC.  No email, no google searches, and the computer we had access to was a mainframe that ran on UNIX.  I didn’t see my first personal computer until my junior year, and it was running DOS.  Email and the world wide web didn’t become available until a couple of years after I graduated.

What project have you worked on that you are the most proud of?  

The projects that I am most proud of are the ones we undertake after natural disasters have struck.  It’s amazing to watch Mother Nature take a big, stout, commercial building and do the damage it’s capable of doing.  It’s also amazingly sad to see the toll that is taken on the human element of the aftermath.

We were involved with quite a bit of work in the gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as several retail and education projects in the after the Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011.  Watching the commercial construction community come together in a time of crisis and rebuild what once was is inspiring and gives me a lot of pride in my work and our industry.

How has the field of engineering changed since you started working?

AutoCAD was in the process of being adopted when I graduated from UMKC.  I interviewed at five consulting firms around Kansas City and two of them were still using manual drafting. Part of the reason I joined Henderson Engineers was because every engineer had their own PC and they were designing 100% in a CAD environment. Now our industry is moving from designing in a 2D environment in AutoCAD to the 3D BIM environment of Revit.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?  

My dad once told me that the only thing college does is teach you how to learn.  What is in your head the day you graduate is a foundation. It’s not everything you will need to know to pursue the career you have in front of you.  In fact, you will discover how much more you don’t know about engineering once you are out of school.  My dad also told me that it’s not what you know that’s important.  What’s important is knowing where to go to find the correct answer.  College prepares you to be able to learn without the structure of a classroom and a teacher.  You have to teach yourself once you get your diploma.

What had you choose UMKC?

I knew I was going have to work my way through college, and I didn’t like the idea of going away to school.  My Dad went to UMKC in the 50’s, so I was already familiar with the school.  As it turned out, not only did my Dad and I get degrees at UMKC, my wife, my brother and his wife,  mother in-law and father in-law, and my wife’s brother and his wife, all went to UMKC.  There’s 9 of us total.

Alumni Q+A: Srinivas Chilakalapudi

Srinivas Chilakalapudi
Chief Strategy Officer, Green Gold Animation
Class of 1994
Current City: Hyderabad, India Hometown: Hyderabad, India
Twitter Handle: @srini_cc

What initially attracted you to UMKC?
UMKC was working on the current hot technologies at the time I was applying. The application of Computer Science in the fields of Telecommunications and Networking was an emerging area and a lot of research was being done by many companies. UMKC was one of the few universities that was offering courses and programs in these fields.

Tell me about an average day at your job.
I am a member of the leadership team and most of my day involves solving critical issues. We have to check on our production schedules and stay in touch with all of our customers and partners. Making sure that everything is progressing smoothly is the main part of my regular day.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?
At UMKC, as a foreign student, I had to juggle both my education and livelihood. I was a Teaching Assistant. Apart from teaching, attending all my classes, and following the research going on in my field, I had to take care of myself in a new country, understand its people and a different culture. This made me a tough and hardworking individual. I used to plan my day very meticulously in order to get everything done, which has served me in good stead even now.

What drew you to Computer Science?
I loved to solve problems and I was pretty good at math, so I was drawn towards programming and computing. New technologies like the internet, networking, switching, and mobile communications fascinated me and I wanted to contribute towards these cutting edge technologies.

How did you decide what area you wanted to work in?
I wanted to make a contribution in the area that I studied and that was an emerging technology field. During the early 90’s, networking was a hot field and companies like Cisco were still startups. I enjoyed being part and parcel of the teams that were making the internet and inter-connecting possible and we were constantly working on innovative technologies.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?
It is very important to learn the subjects, understand them in depth, and not be superficial. Though grades are important, learning and understanding the basics is even more important. You need to work hard and in a methodical way. Plan your schedules well and execute your plans well. That is the key to success.

Alumni Q+A: Ryan Fowler

Ryan William Fowler
Mechanical Facility Engineer and Energy Coordinator, Orbital ATK Lake City AAP
Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2012
Current City: Blue Springs, MO Hometown: Blue Springs, MO

Tell us about your job.
At my job I get involved with managing the plants integrated building management control system, HVAC systems, boiler/steam systems, and all aspects of energy management. I often have construction projects I am responsible for deterring technical requirements and in some cases supervise field work.

One project I particularly enjoyed was the design and implementation of a reverse osmosis treatment system at the Lake City Boiler Plant. I am part of the plant’s master planning process which determines the needs and requirements which will keep the facility in working order for many years to come.

I worked at my company throughout college and interned in facilities engineering. They kept me on once I graduated. I fit very well in this type of engineering and would recommend it to anyone.

How do you balance your work life with your personal life?
I work when I am scheduled to work and I’m home when I’m scheduled to be home. Keeping the two separate and staying focused on what’s important at the time allows me to manage my time well and keep a healthy balance between the two.
Sure there are overlaps every now and then, but they are few and far between. Family comes first, and if you’re working somewhere that doesn’t respect that then it might be time to seek other opportunities.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?
One step at a time. Listen to the experienced engineers in your group and ask a ton of questions, they will be your greatest ally in conquering this new and exciting world. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them. It’s all part of becoming a good engineer. Hang in there; this is where all the fun happens!

Alumni Q+A: Riddhiman Das

Riddhiman Das
Product Architect, EyeVerify, Inc.
Bachelors of Science in Computer Science, Class of 2012
Current City: Kansas City, MO  Hometown: Guwahati, India
Twitter Handle: @rdasxy

What drew you to Computer Science?
I was lucky that I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was still young. When I was 7 years old, my family got our first computer; I was so fascinated by it that I decided that I was going to become a computer scientist when I grew up.

I was exposed to computing concepts early– my parents would get me undergraduate level programming books while I was still in elementary school. They tried to get me the best resources possible to help me learn as much as possible.

I knew in my early teens that computing was going to bring about tremendous change in our lives, and that I wanted to play a part in the “Information Revolution” that was going to have an immense impact into the 21st century human civilization.

How do you keep up with the rapidly changing field of technology?
I often joke that Hacker News ( flows through my veins. I am plugged into several online communities through social networking sites, as well as regularly reading numerous technical journals, blogs, websites, etc.

I have also started taking several MOOCs (massive open online course) lately through Udacity and Coursera, which has really helped me pick up newer technologies.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?
The School of Computing and Engineering has a very thorough Computer Science program. The content I learned as an undergraduate was comparable, or sometimes even better than top Computer Science schools around the world. What was even better about the school was that because it is smaller, I had easy access to all my teachers and faculty. They all knew me personally and made several opportunities available to me that would not have happened at a bigger school.

I was part of several research projects that really helped me refine my skills as a computer scientist. It was also fun because I got to present my research at several conferences, where I met folks from universities around the world. When I graduated with my undergraduate degree, the research I was involved with was nearing commercialization so it ended up being my full time job.

Q+A With Alum: Cody Hill

Cody Hill
Manager, Energy Storage Systems, LS Power
BSECE, Class of 2010
Current City: Mountain View, CA (San Francisco Bay Area)
Hometown: San Francisco, CA and Kansas City, MO
Follow me on twitter: @Cody_A_Hill

What activities were you involved in at UMKC?

I was a recording engineer for Bob Beck at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance for five years which was an awesome gig! I also did audio work for the Marr Sound Archives with Chuck Haddix and KCUR’s New Letters on the Air radio program with Angela Elam.  The Communications Studies department let me teach a few workshops on audio editing, too.

I was active in IEEE, worked alongside Dr. Deep Medhi on a National Science Foundation funded research grant, and volunteered with Debbie Dilks (CSEE’s second mother to all) teaching science to children.

What drew you to Electrical Engineering (EE)?

I got into EE from being a musician (note: a poor one). My interest lead me to recording studios and concerts, where I began working as an audio engineer after high school.  When I first enrolled at UMKC, I was focused on media production in the Communications Studies department, but the more work I did with microphones and audio editing equipment, the more I wanted to master the technical side – pure EE and signal processing. You have to follow your passion if you are lucky enough to find it!

Did you take any technical classes in High School?

Quite the opposite, I was more of an art student.  Looking back, I wish I had done both.

How did you decide what area you wanted to work in?

As I got further into my EE studies I became really passionate about renewable energy and decided to make a shift from media to power.  Professor Mike Kelley was an extremely influential person at this time in my life.  He was so excited about power and energy and it really rubbed off on me.  After my undergraduate degree was complete, I went to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a PhD with Professor Mack Grady. While there, I started working for an energy storage startup and that experience was transformative.  Energy Storage is a key in enabling technology for the future of our energy systems in a high-tech/low-carbon world.  And everybody everywhere needs cheap clean energy. I got my Masters Degree and put the PhD program on hold to work in the field full time. Today, I’m part of a private equity group that builds power plants and energy infrastructure in the U.S. with really outstanding management and coworkers.

How do you keep up with the rapidly changing field of technology?

I read obsessively, often for multiple hours a day. My RSS feed for general and industry news is something that I have been tweaking for years and I probably scan 100-200 article titles every day. With unlimited information at our fingertips, it seems like the key is setting up the right system of filters so that you find the good stuff fast, but are still challenged by people with different perspectives from your own.