Frank Agosti '58
Power to the People: Forty Years of Keeping the Lights on in SE Michigan
Every once in a while, someone asks Frank Agosti how a mechanical engineer could spend his entire career at the biggest electrical company in Michigan, and he just laughs.
“People don’t realize that producing power involves all kinds of mechanical and thermodynamic activities,” he says. “It’s a bulldozer moving coal, a boiler making steam, steam turning a generator, and on and on.”
Nevertheless, power generation is mysterious to most people, so whenever his neighborhood had a blackout, people figured Frank would know what was going on. “I’d tell them I made the electricity and pushed it into the wires,” he chuckles. “It’s the guys moving it through the wires who aren’t getting it out and selling it to you.”
Frank retired from Detroit Edison in 1997 as senior vice president for power supply, capping a career that began in 1957, when he was hired during the summer between his junior and senior years at Michigan Tech. In 1958, after completing his BS in Mechanical Engineering, he joined the company full time and rose through the ranks, accumulating three decades of experience on the company’s coal-fired facilities. Then, as vice president for nuclear operations, Frank led the startup and licensing of Detroit Edison’s Fermi 2 Power Plant. The Monroe County–based facility is still going strong; since it opened in 1988, Fermi 2 has generated over 200 billion kilowatt hours of electricity.
Frank didn’t graduate from high school with the dream of opening a power plant that would generate enough energy to serve a city of a million people. “There were four of us at Fordson High School, in Dearborn, who were thinking about engineering. We were good students but not scholars, and we were wondering where to go to college,” he recalls. “We met with a recruiter from Tech. He talked with us for a while, and then said he didn’t have to see our grades, we were good to go.”
Frank enrolled at Michigan Tech’s Sault Ste. Marie campus, known as the Soo Branch, for his first two years of college. It was closer to home and less crowded with World War II and Korean War veterans collecting on their GI Bill benefits. Probably his most vivid classroom memories involve metallurgy professor Gilbert “Gilly” Boyd. Frank remembers his nickname as “Wing Ding,” for the World War II fighter plane he parked on the stamp sands west of town. “There’s housing there now,” he says, “but back then it was a creative airport.”
Again, Frank says, he was not a brilliant student at Michigan Tech, but his education provided the underpinnings for his success. “I learned the fundamentals in such a way that throughout my career, when issues came up, I had a frame of reference that helped me solve problems.”
Frank started contributing to Michigan Tech soon after he graduated and recently established the Frank Agosti Family Endowed Scholarship for mechanical engineering majors. “My oldest grandchild is in her senior year of college, and I see how expensive it is,” he says. Plus, “Bill [Predebon, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics] is doing an outstanding job. He’s competing for the best students, and our scholarship can help attract them to Michigan Tech.”
Frank also has given his time and talent, serving on the College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and President Curt Tompkins’ Presidential Advisory Council. “I got an education there too,” he says. “That was a collection of successful Tech graduates, high-powered people who were willing to solve problems, and that’s what we did.”
They all seemed to share a unique benefit of a Michigan Tech education, which Frank says played a big role in his own life: “The stick-to-it-iveness that’s typical of all Tech grads. We know what it means to get the job done.”